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Explorer DocumentsEndangered Cultures

Wade Davis. Photo by Ryan Hill.
Wade Davis. Photo by Ryan Hill.

Many indigenous cultures may have disappeared, but Wade Davis is out to make sure we still learn and appreciate all there is to know about them. The National Geographic explorer in-residence, who has spent most of his life immersed in ancient worlds, will speak at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 182 Lillis Hall on the UO campus. 

His lecture, titled “The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in a Modern World,” will focus on how today’s society is made better by the influence of and contributions from all-but-forgotten people and their cultures. He will place emphasis on the preservation of traditional language and beliefs. Though some have critiqued Davis as having a sort of “noble savage romanticism” about indigenous cultures, Davis’ TED talk on endangered cultures has almost one million views. 

According to his Nat Geo bio, Davis’ work has taken him everywhere from Nepal to Mongolia, and he notably spent three years living among 15 indigenous communities during his journeys through the Amazon and the Andes. His focus on that extended trip was plant exploration, living in eight Latin American nations making 6,000 botanical collections. But that’s not all he is knowledgeable about when it comes to the history of our world. Scientist David Suzuki described him as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” 

Davis has published 180 scientific and popular articles on a wide variety of subjects, including Amazonian myth and religion as well as the global diversity crisis. A photographer in addition to being an ethnographer, filmmaker, writer, researcher and lecturer, Davis’s photos have appeared in 20 books and more than 80 magazines, journals and newspapers. A Wes Craven horror film, The Serpent and the Rainbow, was made about his work to discover the “zombie poison” of Haiti and X-Files episodes have been based on his work. 

He is also the author of 15 books, including one that shares the name of his upcoming lecture. Currently, Davis is part of a campaign to protect British Columbia’s Sacred Headwaters from development such as fossil fuel pipelines and exploration. This was a topic of his recent book, The Sacred Headwaters

Davis’ lecture is part of the Oregon Humanities Center’s ongoing “being human | human being” theme. The lecture is free to the public and live streaming of the talk will be shown on ohc.uoregon.edu. For additional information, contact ohc@uoregon.edu or  346-3934.