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Human Adaptation to Environmental Disaster

July 10, 2017

Luisa Cortesi (Anthropology and Forestry & Environmental Studies) has been awarded a Josephine de Karman fellowship for 2017-18 to complete her dissertation, “Living in Floods: Knowledge(s) and Technologies of Disastrous Waters in North Bihar, India.”

Cortesi has won several awards for her work. One was the Curl Essay Prize for ‘An Ontology of Water and Land in North Bihar, India.’ The Curl Prize is given by the Royal Anthropological Institute, UK, to honor the best essay relating to the results or analysis of anthropological work. She also won a Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship; grants from the Fulbright-Institute of International Education and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research; and at Yale, from the MacMillan Center, the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, Tropical Research Institute, Agrarian Studies, and South Asian Studies Council, to support her research on the floods of North Bihar, India.

Cortesi studies how people live in a region periodically destroyed by floods. How do they deal with the scarcity of potable water while surrounded by vast expanses of water unsafe for consumption? She focuses on a rural area defined by the rivers flowing from the Himalayas towards the Ganga and applies an ethnographic approach to questions about human adaptation to environmental change. She explores a broad range of topics, including environmental conflicts, social movements, resource access, water-treatment technologies, environmental displacement, and marginality. Her advisers are Michael Dove and Sivaramakrishnan.

A native of Italy, Cortesi earned degrees from the Università degli Studi di Torino, the Université de Fribourg/Universität Freiburg, and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Before entering the joint PhD program in Anthropology and FES at Yale, she worked for several UN agencies and as an applied anthropologist for a development program on floods, water quality, and sanitation. During that time, she experienced first-hand the two worst floods in living memory, in 2007 and 2008 in Bihar, India, which inspired her to undertake her dissertation research.

At Yale, Cortesi has helped coordinate the South Asia Graduate Colloquiums and organized a series of talks on natural disasters.

Only eight de Karman Fellowships are given annually to graduate students across the country. Last year, Yale’s Katherine Hindley (PhD 2017, Medieval Studies) won this award to complete her thesis, “On Parchment or on Bread: Textual Magic in Medieval England.”