Enamelware Bowl and Lid

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Mary Jo Arnoldi, Ph.D.

Chair Anthropology Department, Curator of African Ethnology

Photo by Jim DiLoreto, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi is an anthropologist who has lived and worked in Senegal and in Mali for over 40 years. Her interest in the region and its people began when she lived in Senegal for two years while she was in the Peace Corps. She often returns to West Africa to research this region's extraordinary art traditions. Her research combines her interest of art history and anthropology, and focuses on the role that art plays in the shaping of culture. She is currently the chair of the Anthropology department and Curator of African Ethnology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. She played an important part in the creation of the museum's permanent exhibit "African Voices."

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Baule woodcarvers at work, Yagolikro village, Ivory Coast
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1972. Image no. EEPA EECL 6900. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

About Humans and the Environment

Humans have always manipulated their environment, whether by acquiring food, making and using tools, or other aspects of daily life. They are constantly interacting with their environment on a daily basis. By using the available materials, humans have created shelter, made tools, created containers and vessels, and produced items of personal and cultural significance. Many of these resources are naturally occurring, such as stones, minerals, animal bones, or organic fibers from plants, while others are made from combining materials. The process of acquiring these materials and the manufacturing process can be traditional practices that are passed down from one generation to another. Because materials are unique to the location of different communities and cultures, by studying the types of materials, as well as animal remains found and the processes used to manipulate them, anthropologists and researchers can learn about the daily activities and lifestyles of the cultures they are studying. In what ways do you interact with your environment on a daily basis?