From Professor Boke
I am informed, in teaching and in life, by my long-term commitment to building socially and environmentally just relations. In that mode, I teach as an "act of radical love," to borrow bell hooks' excellent phrase. I seek to guide students toward their own truest life-path through intellectual engagement and direct experience together. The broad goal of my work in and out of learning spaces is to provide people not only with historical and cultural frameworks to understand situations or places, but also with the relevant tools, experiences, and relationships to engage more deeply with the world we live in and all its challenges. I have deep roots in community organizing and activism, and see my work as a mode of discovery not just about what our world contains, but about how to make it better.
Areas of Expertise
Medical and environmental anthropology; science and technology studies; anthropology of knowledge; social justice and social movements in the United States; anthropology of the body, place and landscape; anthropology of complementary and alternative medicines; applied and engaged anthropology; political ecology; anthropology of risk and disaster; anthropology of religion; Nepali studies
Broadly, my research engages with how to live a good life on a politically and ecologically troubled planet. My scholarly work is situated at the intersection of medical anthropology, political ecology, and science and technology studies in the context of the United States, entwined with my work as a social justice activist. In each of my ongoing projects, I consider the intersections of climate change, critical race and settler-colonial studies, environmental justice, and multispecies relations in the United States. I am at work on a book project based on my longest-term fieldwork to date, with herbal medicine practitioners in the Northeast of the United States. "Dosing Herbalism: Plants, Power and Proportion in North American Medical Ecologies" is a monograph that draws on my ethnographic work with herbalists and those seeking herbal remedies for ailments, linking conversations with chronic illness sufferers to larger historical and social processes. In it, I think about sensory practices of relationship with plants and ecologies; the rhetoric and practice around substances called poisons; and the ways that some herbalisms in North America are both conditioned by, and seek to resist, 'settler common sense' (Rifkin). In my other, related long term project, I build on my engagement with holistic healers and plant-based medicine practitioners in the United States to think about the tick-borne illness Lyme disease (borrelia burgdorferi) and its associated co-infections (e.g. babesia microti, mycoplasma pneumoniae). This project, titled "Tracing Symptoms: The Social Ecologies of Lyme borreliosis in the Global North," attends to ticks, medicinal plants, and humans as they interact and intersect in clinics, in forests and fields, and eventually in research laboratories across North America and western Europe. Lyme is a key site for examining the uneven consequences of human interactions with other-than-human ecologies.
Recent Awards, Recognitions & Memberships
I currently serve as a Visiting Scholar with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (https://www.collegeofphysicians.org/). In this role, I work with the College's archivists and networks to build out my own research, and to present relevant data to the Fellows, staff and community of this historical institution. In parallel I am honored to partner with the College's Mütter Museum as a consultant on their Benjamin Rush Medicinal Garden exhibit (http://muttermuseum.org/). I run workshops with the Collective Liberation Lab and with California Kitchen, design curriculum for a number of organizations, and serve as Adjunct Faculty at St. Michael's College, Colchester, VT.
Dr. Charis Boke has been selected as the 2021-2022 Keith S. Thomson Research Fellow at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine. The Thomson Research Fellowship is awarded each year to an outstanding project in the history of paleontology, geology, or natural history. As the Thomson Research Fellow she will visit the archives of the Science History Institute of Philadelphia, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and the Wellcome Collection in London to look at holdings related to medicinal plant trade and the travels of medical knowledge through the paths of empire. Materials from this research will support the final stages of her manuscript in progress, Poison, Power, and Possibility: Building Relations with Medicinal Plants. This book, which will be her first, attends to the poetics, politics, and practices of contemporary herbalists in North America, leaning on ethnographic research, botanical histories, and lived experience to examine what it takes to actually get remedies for what ails us.