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Human Adaptation to Environmental Disaster

July 10, 2017

Luisa Cortesi (Anthropology and Forestry & Environmental Studies) has recently won several awards for her academic work. This year, she has been awarded a Josephine de Karman fellowship, the Curl Prize by the Royal Anthropological Institute, UK, and the Eric Wolf Prize by the Political Ecology Society.

Cortesi received the Josephine de Karman fellowship (2017-2018) to complete her dissertation, “Living in Floods: Knowledge(s) and Technologies of Disastrous Waters in North Bihar, India.”  Only eight de Karman Fellowships are given annually to graduate students across the country. She won the Curl Essay Prize administered by the Royal Anthropological Institute, UK, to honor the best essay relating to the results or analysis of anthropological work. She is also the winner of the 2017 Eric Wolf Prize given by the Political Ecology Society for the best paper that makes an innovative contribution to Political Ecology, which will be bestowed in April 2018 at the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology.

For her dissertation Cortesi won a Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship and grants from the Fulbright-Institute of International Education, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and from the American Institute of Indian Studies. At Yale, she received dissertation research fellowships from the MacMillan Center, the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, the Tropical Research Institute, the Agrarian Studies Program, and the South Asian Studies Council.

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 knowledge, disaster and resilience, social movements, water-access and treatment technologies, social movements, environmental displacement, poverty and marginality. Her advisers are Michael Dove and K.Sivaramakrishnan, Paul Kockelman and Karen Hebert.

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.

This semester Luisa is co-instructing with Prof. K. Sivaramakrishnan the course “Environmental Justice in Modern South Asia” and coordinating the Agrarian Studies Program  directed by James Scott and K. Sivaramakrishnan. Previously, Cortesi has helped coordinate the South Asia Graduate Colloquiums and organized a series of talks on natural disasters. She is also a therapeutic yoga teacher who works as a volunteer.