Research Topics

This is a list of some possible research topics, just to give students some ideas of what they might do in the field.

Conservation Biology—As these areas are established as protected areas, an understanding of the trade-offs between resource use by the local people and conservation of biodiversity is essential.

Government Policy—The protected areas are primarily established as a top down decision, but the relationships of these decisions to the institution of the protected areas often follows different guidelines.

Languages—In addition to taking place in a country where Spanish is the official language many of the indigenous groups in the areas have their own languages that are being overshadowed by Spanish and even English

Cultural Studies—In addition to interacting with diverse local communities, we will be interacting with an even more diverse group of cultures including Ngobe and possibly Kuna.

Agriculture—Often the local inhabitants are subsistence farmers, growing enough to live on and possibly a little to sell.

Geography—The topography of the various regions is incredible, being situated on the Continental Divide with vast Atlantic and Pacific slopes and elevations ranging from 400 m to 1400 m in elevation. We will be located by a recently created national park, and there are rich opportunities for the study of a range of issues related to natural resource management. Peter Herlihy, a geographer at the University of Kansas, has done some innovative participatory mapping work with the Kuna, and perhaps we could build on that.

Environmental Studies—Land use practices, including commercial mining, are causing debates and conflicts related to the conservation of natural resources. One example is the Petaquilla mine. Another is the Indigenous Ngöbe campaign against large hydroelectric dams.

Health—These communities do not have access to health facilities or money to pay for the health services.

Archeology—El Caño is a site currently under excavation by National Geographic. Possibilities include excavations, studying artifacts in the lab, and working in the on-site museum (including translating signs into English).

History (some random thoughts)

Oral memory, and why people remember Omar Torrijos the way they do; populist styles of leadership.

Labor relations on sugar plantations.

National identity; development of a Panamanian nationalism (would also be a good sociology topic)

Victoriano Lorenzo, a peasant leader who allied with the liberals and was executed by the Colombian military on May 15, 1903 during the Thousand Day War.

More history ideas (from Tom Zoumaras): On the Canal, look at the US effort to bring in Caribbean workers and pay them in silver, not gold like US workers, segregate those workers, and offer minimal services unlike those given US workers. Another would be the US role in the Panamanian Revolution and subsequent canal treaty. Later, a long history exists of the Panamanian efforts to alter the canal treaty which became far more intensive in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson presidencies. Another option is to look into Operation Just Cause (invasion of Panama and capture of Noreiga). Noreiga’s role in drug trafficking, support of the Contras followed by his break with Reagan on the Contras is a possibility. Reagan’s opposition to the Carter era Canal Treaty deal that became effective in 1999. There is good defense and state department information on defending the canal, particularly during WWII. Students could look into the growing tension over the Canal Zone and the flying of the US flag, the opposition that emerged to the School of the Americas (military/covert ops/torture training for LA military personnel. There is extensive information on the link between Panamanian political parties and the US, including the CIA. I am not sure how much info there is, but Noreiga was on the CIA retainer (Contras). Examining that and his drug dealings for the Colombian drug industry could be part of an analysis of the criminal prosecution by Bush-41 prosecutors. Finally, earlier, there is extensive documentation and literature on Anglo-US differences about a canal, whether in Panama or Nicaragua which culminated in the 1850 Clayton-Bulwer and 1901 Hay-Pauncefote treaties. Projects could include interviews with Panamanians involved in treaty negotiations, opposition to the privileges of Zonies, and the like. Another topic is how the canal made the Caribbean littoral a strategic reason
that became the rationale for frequent diplomatic, military, and
economic intervention in the area during the first thirty to forty years
of the 1900s and can go a long way to explain US intervention in the
Central American region for the last fifty years of the 1800s.

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