Heritage Through the Lens of Wellness

The Research

In 2010, Dr. Alaka Wali, the curator of North American Anthropology at The Field Museum, helped to convene a symposium considering the meaning and methodology of an Urban Contemporary Collection at The Field Museum. The symposium resulted in a protocol for a holistic research project titled Urban Health and Well-Being, an effort to collect herbal products and document herbal remedies, traditional knowledge, and cultural practices surrounding how people achieve and define well-being and health in Chicago neighborhoods. The herbal collection currently stands at around 200 objects, and additional research and contextualization of the objects is ongoing. In the summer of 2015, the Urban Health and Well-Being project entered a new phase with research turning to personal interviews with Chicagoans about their ideas and practices of wellness.

In 2016, the project further expanded and partnered with a team of anthropologists and biologists from University of Illinois at Chicago to look at community gardens and their impact on wellness in different communities in Chicago.  For this aspect of the project, we looked at gardens in mostly lower-income, immigrant, or refugee communities to learn more about how gardening impacts people living with fear of gentrification, land insecurity, and living within food deserts, just to name a few scenarios.  To learn more about the biological impacts of community gardens, check out this site.

To learn more about the symposium that laid out a plan for the Urban Contemporary Collection, read about it in: "Collecting Contemporary Urban Culture".

If you would like to learn more about the work that has gone into the Urban Health and Well-Being project, check out our Behind the Scenes page.


What is Wellness?

Our research demonstrates that the concept of wellness and how people think about wellness is very complex. Wellness extends beyond the absence of illness to encompass the psychological and social environments that define who we are as humans. This includes our sense of community, belonging, and satisfaction with life. Wellness is interwoven into our everyday practices of placemaking - developing our own place and identity through the relationships we have with the people around us, our communities, and the socio economic forces at play.


Culture and Wellness

How you choose to pursue wellness is defined by your identity, your family, and your environment. Ideas of wellness are interwoven in our everyday practices - from choosing what you eat for breakfast to how you deal with a sore throat.

Everyone’s concept of wellness is constantly changing. Not only do they change through time, but also through place. With its diverse communities, Chicago is a perfect backdrop for understanding how people learn, change, and pass on knowledge about herbal remedies and cultural notions of wellbeing.


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