Featured Researcher: Dr. Julie Velásquez Runk

November 18, 2021

Trained as both an ecologist and an anthropologist and retaught by indigenous Wounaan villagers and scholars, Julie has just over thirty years doing interdisciplinary community-based research and collaborative ethnography. She works with communities to ask how to sustain forests and nurture human wellbeing in mosaic landscapes; how to strengthen cultural and environmental rights and sovereignty in the face of tremendous change; and how to make science more collaborative in its theory and by incorporating multiple voices. Drawing from her intersectional identity and work with NGOs and government, she bridges traditional disciplinary boundaries by mixing social sciences, natural sciences, and the humanities in her research, teaching, and mentorship. She authors and co-authors work for academic and non-academic publics and maintains ethics of care and redistributing privilege.

Currently, Julie is continuing over twenty-four years of relationships and knowledge co-production with the indigenous Wounaan Podpa Nʌm Pömaam and the Fundación para el Desarrollo del Pueblo Wounaan in Panama. Their cultural team (Chenier Carpio Opua, Doris Cheucarama Membache, hapk’ʌʌn Rito Ismare Peña, Dorindo Membora Peña, Chindío Peña Ismare, and Julia) has developed materials for school children on ethno-ornithology and forest restoration. The team is collaborating with artist Frankie Green, NGO Native Future, UGA’s DigiLab, and professor Francisco Herrera (University of Panama) on a digital audio children’s book. Julie also is completing a multimedia book project on the illegal rosewood logging boom and indigenous resurgence. Supported by Wounaan authorities and villages, Jelo Mejía Peña and Hirwin Ortíz Chamapuro were elected to research with her. She and Liz Lapovsky Kennedy (University of Arizona) are building out a Wounaan archive, repatriating over a half century of ethnographic materials.

In addition to work with Wounaan, Julie co-researches on several teams. With the Gorgas Memorial Institutes of Health Studies and UGA, they are studying the relationships among forest gradients, political economic history, and zoonotic diseases. Julia is working with the team’s veterinary scientists, anthropologists, ecologists, and parasitologists to address power in drivers of zoonotic disease transmission. With an international NGO and academic team, convened by Dana Graef at the National Socio-Environment Synthesis Center, she is finishing work on unbuilt infrastructure in remaking the socio-environment. Together Julie and Mònica Martínez Mauri (Universitat de Barcelona) are researching the history of science, colonialism, and indigeneity. Here in Athens, Julie continues work with graduate students and community members studying African American history.

Julie is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. At UGA she is affiliate faculty with the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute, the Institute of Native American Studies, the Center for Integrative Conservation, and the Digi Lab. She holds a dual joint PhD in forestry and environmental studies, anthropology, and economic botany from Yale University and the New York Botanical Garden.

The initial Gorgas-UGA zoonotic disease research team in 2016. Also pictured is a staff member from the Ministry of Health’s Vector Control, who accompanied us in communities.
Members of the Wounaan National Congress cultural team meeting about ethno-ornithology research, 2017.  From left, Doris, hapk’ʌʌn Rito, Julia, and Chenier.
Julia, Jelo and a landholder go to a site where rosewood was logged, 2016.  The landholder narrates the walk wearing a head-mounted GoPro camera.
Julie Velásquez Runk, 2019.