Athens, Ga. – Professors Brent Berlin and Elois Ann Berlin have been named recipients of the 2008 Distinguished Economic Botanist Award, the highest honor for professionals from the national Society for Economic Botany. They will be honored June 5 in a formal ceremony during the society’s annual meeting in Durham, N.C.
The Berlins are husband and wife who have been faculty members in the University of Georgia’s department of anthropology since 1994. Brent Berlin is Graham Perdue Professor of Anthropology, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute and co-director of the Laboratories of Ethnobiology. He will retire from UGA in June. Elois Ann Berlin, who retired in 2006, is associate professor emerita and co-director of the Laboratories of Ethnobiology.
“The work of Brent Berlin and Elois Ann Berlin over the last four decades has led to major theoretical advances in cognitive and medical Ethnobiology,” said Rick Stepp, a member of the council of the Society for Economic Botany. “Their work has always demonstrated the highest ethical standards during years of intensive fieldwork in Mexico and Peru. They have described the encyclopedic plant knowledge of the Highland Maya in numerous publications and, in the process, revealed a healing system on par with that of the great Far East traditions. They were amongst the first researchers to actively work with native collaborators and they are deeply committed to their research communities and local partners.”
Elois Ann Berlin, who has spent her career as a medical anthropologist, expressed gratitude for the award.
“This is a wonderful honor,” she said. “While the Society for Economic Botany is interdisciplinary by nature and has shown a long-standing interest in herbal medicine, this award is especially significant to me in that it symbolizes the increasing recognition, in botany and other disciplines, of the scientific basis of traditional knowledge about the natural world and its relationship to human health.”
Brent Berlin likewise thanked the organization for the honor.
“Joining the list of distinguished scientists who have been recognized by this important award of the society is humbling and we are extremely honored,” he said. “The award also emphasizes the importance of collaboration across disciplines, in our case, anthropology, botany, linguistics, medicine, nutrition and health.”
Brent Berlin has conducted ethnobiological research among the Tzeltal and Tzotzil Maya of the Highland of Chiapas, Mexico since 1960. Beginning in 1999, he led a multidisciplinary group of faculty and students in a project on drug discovery, medical ethnobiology, botanical inventory, conservation and sustained economic development among the Highland Maya.
The Distinguished Economic Botanist Award, established in 1978, is bestowed annually by the Society on the basis of outstanding education and research accomplishments. The award represents the ultimate achievement in the field of Economic Botany. The Society for Economic Botany is the largest international scientific organization fostering and encouraging research and education on the past, present and future uses of plants by people.