Microcosms | Commentary
I grew up in the English countryside, learning about folk knowledge of plants and birds from my grandparents on a Lincolnshire farm. Trees and hedgerows were endowed with a particular kind of magic and intrigue. These childhood experiences clearly had a formative influence on my brother and me. While I ended up becoming an anthropologist of plants (or, alternatively, an ethnobotanist) working in indigenous Amazonia, my brother became a doctor of palynology, specialising in the study of fossilised pollen grains from the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that killed off the dinosaurs. Radically opposed ends of the plant studies spectrum, for sure, but both equally under a vegetal spell.
Microcosms is a rich and spellbinding digital resource for anyone interested in the sacred and entheogenic plants of lowland South America. This multimedia art-science project brings together plant science, anthropology, ethnobotany, art, and activism in a novel fusion that opens up the fascinating world of indigenous plant wisdom to a broad audience in an ethical fashion. As a social anthropologist working across the people-plant interface, I have found this open-access resource to be of great use in my own explorations of Amazonian plant-worlds. The website, accessible and aesthetically intriguing in equal measure, is full of useful resources for Amazonian ethnobotanists of all types. It is rare to find a resource that not only crosses the epistemological divide between the life sciences and the arts and humanities, but one which actively embraces it like Microcosms.
Lewis Daly (email@example.com) is a Lecturer in Social and Environmental Anthropology at University College London (UCL). He has conducted long-term ethnographic research with indigenous societies in northern Amazonia, exploring themes relating to agriculture, herbal medicine, shamanic ritual, mythology, and cosmology.
Lewis is the co-founder and co-editor of TEA: The Ethnobotanical Assembly, an open-access online magazine exploring people-plant relationships from a diversity of angles and perspectives.
Some recent publications:
Shepard Jr., Glenn H. and Lewis Daly (2022) Sensory Ecologies, Plant-Persons, and Multinatural Landscapes in Amazonia. Botany (2): 83–96.
Daly, Lewis (2021) Cassava Spirit and the Seed of History: On Garden Cosmology in Northern Amazonia. Anthropological Forum 34(4): 377–395.
Daly, Lewis and Glenn H. Shepard Jr. (2019) Magic Darts and Messenger Molecules: Toward a Phytoethnography of Indigenous Amazonia. Anthropology Today 35(2): 13–18.