The following invited speakers have visited the gardens to engage staff in conversations about biocultural conservation. They each began with an introduction to their work addressing what “biocultural” means to them, how it’s central to their work, and why it matters.

Gerald Torres: December 13, 2018

Photo of Gerald Torres

Gerald Torres is a leading figure in critical race theory, environmental law and federal Indian Law. He previously served as the Bryant Smith Chair in Law at the University of Texas School of Law and taught at The University of Minnesota Law School, where he served as Associate Dean. He is also a former president of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). Torres has served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and as counsel to then U.S. attorney general Janet Reno.

His book, The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2002) with Harvard law professor Lani Guinier, was described by Publisher's Weekly as "one of the most provocative and challenging books on race produced in years." Torres' many articles include "Translation and Stories" (Harvard Law Review, 2002), "Who Owns the Sky?" (Pace Law Review, 2001) (Garrison Lecture),"Taking and Giving: Police Power, Public Value, and Private Right" (Environmental Law, 1996), and "Translating Yonnondio by Precedent and Evidence: The Mashpee Indian Case" (Duke Law Journal, 1990). 

Torres has served on the board of the Environmental Law Institute, the National Petroleum Council and on EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. He is currently Vice Chair of Earth Day Network and Board Chair of the Advancement Project as well as serving on the Board of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Texas League of Conservation Voters. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Law Institute. Torres was honored with the 2004 Legal Service Award from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) for his work to advance the legal rights of Latinos. 


Recorded interviews and presentations:

Under 2 minutes

Six minutes

One Hour


Maria Christina Garcia, Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies

Garcia, a 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellow, studies refugees, immigrants, and exiles. Her most recent book is The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America (Oxford University Press, 2017), a study of the actors and interests that have shaped US refugee policy in the Post-Cold War and post 9/11 era.

She is also the author of Seeking Refuge: Central American Migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canada (University of California Press),  a study of the individuals, groups, and organizations that responded to the Central American refugee crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and helped shape refugee policies throughout North America. Collectively these domestic and transnational advocacy networks collected testimonies, documented the abuses of states, re-framed national debates about immigration, pressured for changes in policy, and ultimately provided a voice for the displaced and the excluded.

Her first book, Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, examined the migration of Cubans to the United States after the Castro revolution.   The book examines how these Cold war migrants-became a powerful economic and political presence in the United States, influencing foreign policy and electoral outcomes, reshaping the cultural landscape of the South, and ultimately reinterpreting what it means to assimilate.
She is co-editor (with Maddalena Marinari and Madeline Hsu) of A Nation of Immigrants Reconsidered: U.S. Society in an Age of Restriction, 1924-1965.

Laura Brown: December 12, 2018

Laura Brown

Laura Brown joined the Department of English at Cornell University in 1981. She holds the John Wendell Anderson chair and has served as chair of the English department, director of the English PhD program, and also as Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Professor Brown is a scholar and critic of eighteenth-century literary culture. She has published six books and many scholarly essays, and has served as the President of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Professor Brown studies uncertainty and innovation, non-human beings and species difference, and gender, empire, and race in eighteenth-century literary history.Her most recent book, Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Literary Imagination, defines the formative impact of non-human beings in English literary history.

Her work, through an analysis of eighteenth-century literature, critiques imperialism, slavery, tropes of gender and race and the differences of species.

Karim-Aly Kassam: November 29, 2019

Picture of Dr. Karim-Aly Kassam, seated near Pamir Mountains in Central Asia (Afghanistan and Tajikistan).  Picture taken during a planning visit carried out in 2006.
Dr. Aly-Kassam, in addition to many academic publications, book chapters and a book, has produced a number of videos that are well worth watching, such as Maliseet Stewardship of Plants. The rest of the videos can be found on his website under Films/Media. His current research projects are (directly from his website):
The goal of this research is to build anticipatory capacity for climate change through the revitalization and development of ecological calendars. We are generating a proof of concept through participatory action research with the Standing Rock Nation, fishing and farming communities around Oneida Lake, and communities in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. 

Sustainable Forest Communities: Integrated Land Stewardship Strategy for Native American Land Claims  

The purpose of our research is to create a biocultural land stewardship strategy for existing and newly-settled land claims of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. We are also creating audio-visual materials for high school and undergraduate environmental science education. 
Engaging Environmental Education Through Teen Experiential Learning Programs  
This project is designed to serve and impact youth from both urban and rural areas of New York state with rather diverse needs, particularly vis-a-vis nature exploration and education. Youth of the Twenty-first Century are not visitors to their environment but are an integral part of their habitat.

Marianne Krasny

Marianne Krasny is a Professor and Director of the Civic Ecology Lab in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, specializing in community environmental stewardship and environmental education in urban and other settings in the US and internationally.

Outreach and Extension Focus
The Civic Ecology Lab: (1) supports community gardening, participatory watershed restoration, shoreline cleanups, and other locally-organized civic ecology practices with community and environmental outcomes; and (2) is a global leader in online and hybrid professional development for environmental and climate educators. To promote the work of civic ecology stewards and environmental educators, we facilitate online courses and communities that integrate research-based content, social networking, and hands-on projects adapted to local contexts. Our Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) on the Edge edX platform include: Reclaiming Broken Places: Introduction to Civic Ecology, Introduction to Environmental Education, Global Environmental Education, Urban Environmental Education, Environmental Education Outcomes, Climate Change Science, Communications and Action, and two new courses for 2019-20: Nature Education and E-STEM (a science education course focused on the environment). We also conduct an online climate action fellowship for global participants. Each year our online offerings engage over 3000 participants from over 60 countries. For updates, see

Pam Shade, Horticulturalist for the Robison Herb Garden

Pam began her gardening career at Cornell Botanic Gardens in 1991, following her first career as an art teacher. Her formal studies in art strongly influenced her approach to the garden as an art form. She was also very fortunate to have been mentored for several years by former gardener Diane Miske, whose garden aesthetic continues to influence her work. She assumed the management and curation of the Robison York State Herb Garden in 2005. She is continually drawn to this garden as it beautifully embodies the enduring connection between people and plants, with its diverse collection of useful plants that are rich with cultural significance.

Herbs have continued to be relevant to humankind throughout the ages and are a link between the past and the present. A subject that is of particular interest to her is the study of medicinal plants from ancient times and their intersection with current biopharmaceutical and medical research. She given garden tours on this subject and been a guest speaker for several classes at Cornell University, including Introduction to Ancient Medicine, Medical Ethnobotany, and Health and Humanities. Another topic that she has researched extensively is the historical use of native medicinal plants among the Haudenosaunee people.

Pam holds a bachelor’s degree in art education from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

Jeffrey Palmer- Assistant Professor, Performing and Media Arts

Jeffrey Palmer is a Kiowa filmmaker and media artist. As a dean's fellow at the University of Iowa, he received his Master of Fine Arts in film and video production, with an emphasis in documentary film and video installation. He received his Master of Arts in Native American Studies, focusing on Native American exploitation in early cinema and his Bachelor of Arts in cultural anthropology from the University of Oklahoma. He has taught film at the University of Central Oklahoma and Syracuse University and is currently an Assistant Professor in Cornell University’s Department of Performing and Media Arts.

He recently completed his first feature film, N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and will air on the PBS series American Masters in 2019. His short films have also screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Hot Docs, The Seattle International Film Festival, and many others around the world. His work has also been featured in Indian Country Today, The Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, Native American Times, Art Focus Magazine and Dreamcatcher Magazine. He received awards and recognition from ITVS, JustFilms/Ford Foundation, Sundance Institute Creative Producers Lab, Sundance Institute Native Program Lab fellowship, and Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellowship.