Steven Goodman is former artist and MacArthur Award-winning conservation biologist who studies and documents the endangered, diverse and previously unknown plants and animals of Madagascar.
Introduction by Interlochen Center for the Arts President, Jeffrey Kimpton:
Interlochen Arts Academy has for its 50 years had an amazing tradition in the arts and academics. One of the bedrocks of our program has been our science program for many years. Not to single it out over any of the other programs, but there has been a passion and interest in the science here that has been unusual in a school for the arts. We have a product of that today. When we put this conference together we wanted to make certain that it was not just those coming from the performing arts or visual arts, theater arts or music, but that we were also looking for people who were influenced by the arts and how art has influenced their work in other professions and certainly science is one of them. Steven Goodman works for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, but is currently based in Madagascar. He is experiencing extreme jet lag right now, as he really just got here. He is going to bring you a very unique description of the world and you will see why the arts are critical for all living things for all time. Please welcome Steven Goodman.
It’s a pleasure to be here. I was born in Detroit and lived there until I was about 11 or 12. At that time, my father bought a farm in the middle of Michigan where we had a very large apple orchard and the nearest neighbor was two miles away. I had a youth of considerable liberty and was lucky enough to come to Interlochen for two years, finishing up my high school. Subsequently I have had a pretty long trajectory and I’m currently a technical counselor for an organization in Madagascar called “Vahatra” and I also hold the Chair of the MacArthur Field Biologist at the Field Museum in Chicago.
What I would like to talk with you about today are three principal themes, and that is the translation and observations from nature and intent to capture and put into a sense of order the world around us. Simply, these types of things are an expressive art form. Earlier it was mentioned that we are the history that is behind us. Something that is very important is the continuum of knowledge transfer and advancement. Specifically learning from history and cycles of history and recognition of mentoring in our recent and distant past. Another very, very critical thing to recognize about artists or scientists or people in a world community is that there are many different ways to define reality and that not one of those is more correct than another. In a very loose definition, art is a term that describes a diverse range of human activities and association with interpretive products.
If you go deep into art history, in very early phases, art was considered a special faculty of the human mind, which also included aspects of religion and science. The idea of human agency and creation through imaginative or technical skill. In order to put things into motion, you have to interpret and have certain skills to express those ideas. And, a very important way is the question of aesthetics. That is, simply, to find beauty in something and that can be reflected in art, culture or aspects of nature. So, for example, there are certain aspects of human nature that have been constant through time. This figure here comes from a rock painting in southern Algeria that is about 4500 years old. This is coming from Jebel Ajdabiya, on the Libyan/Egyptian border that is about 3500 years old. This is also coming from Gilf Kebir in the Libyan Desert, which is about 4500 years old. You can see that at some point early in modern or historical human records, Neolithic and Paleolithic, there was a certain way to express form.
To the right, these are paper cuts from Matisse before his death and you can see very similar aspects of how things could be distilled down to the essence of form, separated by 4500 years of human history.
To try to explain this in a bit more detail, I am going to take you on a trip, so to speak, of my own personal history that includes my years here at Interlochen. When I arrived at Interlochen, I was engaged in sculpture and ceramics. Jean Parsons, who died a few years ago, was a very, very important mentor to me. Jean Parsons came from a tradition of ceramics while her professor was Maija Grotell who was at Cranbrook but was a product of the Bauhaus. Jean Parsons was someone in a sense that, not in a prejudiced way, could put a box around things to describe it and express it. This was very much a post-World War I/pre-World War II vision of the world. She was a very important mentor, and I received a considerable amount of attention from Jean Parsons. During the period that I was here at Interlochen, Thor Johnson was still alive. I can remember having many discussions with Thor Johnson about aesthetics and expression of the world around us.
Now, as I mentioned Jean Parsons came from a school of art that was associated with Maija Grotell, who is considered the mother of American pottery. Maija Grotell, I believe was Finnish in origin. Before World War II, she spent quite a bit of time in Germany, specifically working in the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus, which existed to the rise of Nazi Germany before World War II. It was an important source associated with an upsurge of experimentation in the arts in moving from a sort of expressionism to functionality or afunctionality – that would not make sense b/c the Bauhaus movement is all about functionality. That is: observe the world, interpret it and present it in a manner that can be easily understood to people in general and having a very functional aspect. Hence the pottery that you saw on the last slide of Maija Grotell - beautiful artistic forms but a very important aspect of functionality. As I already mentioned, it very much focuses on an aesthetic understanding of the world around us and its expression. Maija Grotell was amongst many artists before the start of World War II who went to other places in Europe, and most importantly to North America, to continue the Bauhaus tradition.
So, I arrived at Interlochen and I had certain ideas about sculpture and the natural world and Jean Parsons introduced me to Von Cuuse, a Romanian artist/sculptor who spent most of his professional life in France. Von Cuuse symbolizes for me, the essence of simplicity in form. He did a whole series of sculptures in a very simplistic fashion capturing something very unique about nature, specifically motion.
When I was here at Interlochen I spent a lot of time roaming through the woods, looking at birds, making sketches and trying to understand how Von Cuuse could simplify things in such a very clear manner. Then I took a class from Mike Chamberlin and something magical happened. I realized that I was leaving my sketch pad behind, taking a field guide, binoculars and spending a great deal of time in the forest. In fact, when I contacted Kathy Perez here in the Archives to ask for a photo of Mike, I was very happy to see this one that arrived. That is me in the center at the age of 16. Recently Mike sent a message to me saying the singular most important thing about teaching ecology was to make kids spend time outdoors and nature would do the next step. That is very much the case and together with Mindy Rose we went out every morning - sunshine, snow or whatever it was to the sewage lagoons - I don’t know if they still exist - where we observed birds and made documentation of the types of ducks and the different types of birds that were coming through Interlochen on migration, etc. This was a report we wrote and submitted to our Ecology class for Mike Chamberlin. There were all types of other activities that we were engaged in. This was a red-shouldered hawk nest here, and I built a blind (Mike helped me) and went up there to observe the bird. In fact, I don’t think it ever came back to its nest - but it was the action that was important. Then one summer, I became interested in behavioral ecology and also communication between birds. I decided to do an experiment where I would put different scents on these young fowl chicks and watch how the parents interacted with their babies based on different olfactory signals. Mike was nice enough to take me out to Goose Island - dropped me off and picked me up 10 days later. This was a moment in my history where a certain sense of exploration and independence both physically in a logistics sense and psychologically in a mental sense was very important to me.
We talked about the cycle with Jean Parsons and Maija Grotell, but there is also an important cycle here with Mike Chamberlin and his professor, Nick Cuthbert, who is an ornithologist in Mount Pleasant at Central Michigan University. Nick was a young man with a wife named Mabel Cuthbert. Mabel’s father was Henry Jacques, who in the 1940’s started a field guide series. This was something that was extraordinary at that time. These types of books gave rise to the Peterson Field Guide series and all kinds of ways to diffuse information on natural history to millions and millions of people in both North America and later in Europe and Africa and other places. Though Mabel comes from a family that was extremely important for the forward movement of the sciences and people understanding their natural patrimony - that is to say, their natural history. Their daughter, who in this picture is in Mabel’s class, went on to become a professor in biology. She (Francie) was in Minnesota and a few years later at the University of Michigan Biological Station. She married a friend of mine, a colleague of mine, who works on tigers in India. Many years ago I worked with him on bats in Nepal. Their son was an intern of mine at the Field Museum, three or four years ago. You can see how these cycles turn upon themselves.
I left Interlochen and Jean Parsons, in the traditional Bauhaus structure, had found a job for me to continue the Bauhaus tradition - that is to observe things in nature, or observe things in both the human made and the natural world and interpret them in a very functional way. My job was to go to Bennington Pottery and work with David Gil, this gentleman here (referring to photograph), who died a few years ago. David was the founder of Bennington Pottery and also very much a product of the Bauhaus. I was to design new lines of functional pottery for Bennington. But, something happened. I left for Vermont in an old rattily car that tended to break down every 40 kilometers. On the way I stopped at the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York and made a blind in the bush next to a black heron colony. An adult black heron came in, and I saw this extraordinary ritualistic behavior of an adult black heron coming back to the nest to feed the chicks. It was then that I realized I had made a mistake. I didn’t want to go to Bennington Pottery, but I wanted to be a scientist. Now between that decision in Montezuma Wildlife Refuge and Madagascar a lot of things happened. I went to many, many places and had many extraordinary experiences that range from living with Bedouins for two or three years, to working in Borneo, the Philippines and South America and doing all types of research in different places in the world.
But rather than telling you all about that, I thought I would start by telling you about Madagascar. As you know, Madagascar is an island off the southeastern coast of Africa. It’s the fourth largest island in the world. There are certain aspects about Madagascar that you probably don’t know. The people who live on Madagascar are called Malagasy. The first folks to colonize the island came from Southeast Asia. The language that is spoken on Madagascar is called Malagasy and it has nothing to do with Bantu languages, nothing to do with any African language, or Swahili or much in the way of Arabic influence. It is a language from Southeast Asia. The closest living language in the world to Malagasy is spoken in Soriac and Borneo in the highlands. It’s a very unique situation as far as human colonization. After New Zealand, Madagascar was the last large island mass in the world to be colonized - based on current information that took place about 2500 years ago. It’s a big place. The size of Madagascar is like the state of California and a third of Oregon. It’s best to be considered an island continent. There is a very large mountain range that runs along the eastern border that gives rise to relatively important but short-lived rivers that drain into the Indian Ocean. Toward the west there are vast areas of river plains that flow into the Mozambique Channel. There are basically three types of forest on Madagascar: wet forest or rainforest; dry, deciduous forest; and the spiny bush. A very important aspect to understand across this massive landscape is that this area receives up to seven meters of rainfall per year. Seven meters would be approximately 60 or 70 times the rainfall that falls here near Traverse City down to areas in the southwest that receive, in the best of years, 300 to 400 millimeters of rainfall. It is very, very diverse as far as different types of meteorological climes and vegetational climes. To give you an idea of some of the habitats, this is typical lowland forest where the difference between the rainy season and the dry season is how much it rains per day, because it is always raining. (Referring to photograph) - Two extraordinary forests in the high mountains where branches that seemed to be about this big are actually this big - the difference between these two is just moss growing around these areas - to zones above forest line. This is the Andringitra Plateau, and across this area, which extends about 15 kilometers there are 85 species of orchids that grow there of which only five occur anywhere else in the world other than this plateau.
In the west we see extraordinary dry, deciduous forests with these massive baobab trees and really unknown biodiversity. The west coast also features large areas of limestone filled with caves and crevices and also, very poorly known. Important areas of aquatic habitat are dwindling very quickly because the Malagasy eat a lot of rice and most of the marsh systems have been converted into rice fields.
(Referring to photo) This is the capitol city of Antananarivo, where I live with my family. Antananarivo has a population of approximately 1.5 to 2 million people and is the largest city on the island.
This table serves two very different functions. This comes from a book that was published in 2003 called “The Natural History of Madagascar.” It gives estimates of species diversity and levels of endemism, in this sense, organisms that exist nowhere else in the world. You can see, for example, if you look at frogs in 2002 when the book went to press, there were about 200 species of frogs, 99% endemic, estimated 300 species. This gives you a sense of how unique Madagascar is. To put into a very different perspective, this figure today of described frogs from Madagascar is about 420. So in the course between 2002 and today, the figure went up approximately 200 species and the estimate of number of species close to 800. This graph nicely serves the purpose of showing how unique Madagascar is, how little we know about it and how quickly we are learning new aspects of the island.
Very, very quickly I am going to describe to you why Madagascar is so unique. 180 million years ago, a period at the age of the start of the era of dinosaurs, Madagascar is here wedged in between India and Africa. Things split apart about 100 million years ago and Madagascar was more or less in its current position still attached to India. 80 million years ago, India split off, moved up north, hit the Asian continent and formed the Himalayan Mountains. The thing you have to keep in mind is, 80 million years ago, is before the evolution of most of the life we know today. Madagascar was already separated from Africa before the plants and animals we know today had actually evolved. We are talking about isolation in deep geological time.
Just to give you an idea of Malagasy culture and different groups of people, these are people from the high plateau, the central high plateau, that have their roots in Southeast Asian culture. (Referring to photos) These are three sisters, coming from the same father and the same mother, and you can see the amount of variation that signifies the high plateau. These are two sisters that are of Bantu origin, which was a subsequent colonization of Madagascar, and you can see culturally and physically there are notable differences.
There is a very nice expression in Malagasy that translates as, Madagascar is a place that is very rich in cultural aspects, but people have very little as far as physical aspects. And, that is very, very true. There are lots of festivals and people are socially in direct contact with one another. It is a very vibrant culture. There is another saying in Malagasy that translates: they behave like a chameleon, with one eye on the future and one eye on the past. This is a very important expression for most Malagasy because they believe strongly that their future is tied into their ancestors. If the ancestors are not satisfied with life today, the future is bleak. There are many, many festivals and special ritual activities that take place on Madagascar to make sure that the ancestors are pleased. One of these is called the Famadihana, where you physically go to the tomb, open the tomb, take whatever remains of the body and wrap it into a new shawl made out of special material. Following this, a huge party takes place, which is very festive and very positive and upbeat. It goes on for two or three days. I attend these regularly and it is a lot of fun. Normally when they organize it, it’s calculated to a half bottle of rum, per person, per day. They physically take the remains of the person around the village and explain exactly what has been happening since the last time the tomb was opened, i.e., who was married, how many kids were born, new houses and they explain aspects of the local culture. Many cows are killed and there is a lot to eat and drink. Dancing is prominent. A lot of these Famadihana go back to people who have been dead for 150 years and nothing physically remains of their bodies anymore other than old photos that are stowed away or some relics of their culture. People pay very important tribute to their ancestors deep in time. This aspect of paying tribute to ancestors is something very important and this is part of our cumulative knowledge whether we are westerners here at Interlochen or people in Madagascar. This is a very important aspect to understand - where we came from and different aspects of our heritage.
I am going to turn toward the aspect of exploration and a description of an extraordinary biodiversity of Madagascar - something that I have been actively involved in now for 25 years. When I arrived in Madagascar in the mid-1980’s, two things were very clear to me: 1) How little we knew about this unique island and it’s biodiversity and 2) How few Malagasy scientists were actively involved in research rather than being under the shadows of their foreign counterparts. Together with some colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund, we created a project called the Ecology Training Program whose main objective was to do inventories in remote and unknown territories of Madagascar, and to get Malagasy graduate students in the field, train them and create generations of scientists who would have the wherewithal, tools and knowledge to lead their country, rather than always relying on people coming from the outside.
If you have ever seen a map of Madagascar, there are very few roads. To get into these remote areas of the island, requires some extraordinary gymnastics logistically. Oftentimes we go into places where you can walk for three or four days with a phalanx of 20 or 30 porters behind you in order to get into some of these biologically unknown areas. Once in a forest site, we set up camp and each of the people on the team is a specialist, for example working on birds, snakes, bats, etc. Each person jumps into action and we would spend a week to ten days at each of these sites documenting what occurs in those areas and then moving on to another area. Certain areas are extremely complicated to reach. (Referring to a photograph) This was a trip to the highest summit of Madagascar. As far as we knew, no one had ever been there before us. It was basically ten days to leave our houses and to arrive at the first camp on the summit of Tsaratanana. Sometimes you can go by road, but it is often easier to get out and walk. This was a trip to an area in the southeast called Madounka Sude. We literally had to carry the wood for all the bridges, arrive at one of these places, build the bridge, drive the vehicle across, put the wood on top of the bridge, drive another 500 meters, rebuild a bridge, etc. As I mentioned, oftentimes it is easier just to walk.
During the course of these trips, remarkable things were found. This was a chameleon that was described as the smallest chameleon in the world. This was an adult. This is a lemur named after a paleontologist by the name of Madame Berthe Rakotoarimanana, and is better known as a Madame Berthe Mouse Lemur. It is the smallest living primate in the world. This is a bat species that actually has suckers on its wings. They physically can walk up a glass surface or smooth-leafed surface. This was something that was completely new to science. This is a giant jumping rat that we named a few years ago, only known from a single specimen after eight weeks of research in a forest. When this animal was described, it became the rarest mammal in the world. It is almost certainly extinct now. The forest where we were able to capture this creature has been destroyed.
Very briefly we will look at this red line. This is the number of species of mammals known from Madagascar since the first description by Linnaeus in 1758. You can see where we started working in Madagascar using new techniques and it has been more or less exponential growth in the number of mammal species on the island. In fact, this is way out of date and should be closer in number to 300. The last time I modified the graph was in 2010, and there have been lots of new species described since then.
That was for mammals. Now we turn to ants. A close friend and colleague of mine from the California Academy of Science works with the ants of Madagascar. When he arrived in Madagascar in 1993 there were 70 known species on the island, and as of two weeks ago, Brian estimated that there were closer to 1400. So the species described has gone from 70 to approximately 1400 on the island in just over 19 years.
What I would like to talk about are observations in nature, and the curiosity of the world around us. When I was here at Interlochen and with many of the other interactions I have had throughout the years, I have noted that there is a certain curiosity about the world around us. To express that curiosity you can use music, visual arts or any of many types of mediums to make an observation, interpret it and then express it. One of the aspects about Madagascar, in order to move forward with some very important large questions associated with community ecology, interaction of species, conservation, etc., we had to know the players. We spent about 25 years trying to figure out the players and an important tool to do that is molecular genetics. Using molecular genetics we were able to decipher the relationships of certain animals, describe many new species and understand how they fit into an evolutionary scheme. This group of birds in Madagascar, which were endemic to the island, they occur nowhere else in the world, and there are many, many species and we had no idea how they all fit together. Using molecular genetics, we were able to come up with trees and understand the relationships and how it all fits together into a unified vision of their origins and aspects of their relationships.
For example, (referring to a photograph) this is a new species of a big forest bird, described just last year, completely unknown to science, living in a remote area of Madagascar, remarkably common in one forest block but nowhere else in the world.
Part of our work is very descriptive. For me the descriptive portion of our work also has a lot to do with understanding the pieces of the puzzle and the world around us. We write lots of papers describing new species.
Turning to these mouse lemurs, for example, they are small little animals. When they are in your hand, they bite as hard as they can, but they don’t have enough force to even break the skin. Until a few years ago there were only two species known from Madagascar, and as we started to investigate these things with behavior, molecular genetics and other aspects, we are now up to 23 species of mouse lemurs. Twenty-one species of mouse lemurs have been described on Madagascar since 2000.
The carnivores of Madagascar, their origin, and how they evolved has been a great puzzle to evolutionary biologists and people studying animals. Once again using molecular tools we were able to figure out important details of when they arrived on Madagascar and how they evolved and the pattern of speciation. Now once you know the players, you can start looking at community ecology. Community ecology is very much, from my perspective, an art form. With community ecology, what you try to do is to understand interactions between multiple players in a puzzle and by having different types of information you can actually figure out how they divide up the world and the organization in an ecosystem.
Together with Malagasy colleagues and students, we do a lot of work on community ecology and this is a very important aspect to advance the understanding of ecosystems functioning and also to propose tangible programs for conservation.
There have been many, many studies done on behavior, aspects of dispersal, aspects of functional morphology, etc. These are all studies that provide a window into the natural world and how it has evolved on an island such as Madagascar.
This is an interesting study. This is a bird that is endemic to Madagascar. Actually a family of birds that is endemic to Madagascar, called the Asities. They have this very bizarre wattle. A few years ago we started to investigate the structure of these wattles and it turns out to be remarkably complicated. In these wattles, there are these pili, then on one of these pili, there are tens of thousands of these types of structures. When you section these structures, you come up with the first example known in the natural world of organized collagen fibers, like a crystal in a rock. This actually had enormous implications. There were many people working in the field of fiber optics that had these ideas that were completely theoretical. If you have in the natural world collagen fibers that are ordered like a crystal in a rock and you change the distance between these collagen fibers like crystals, what happens as far as the color? So basically this bird from Madagascar, when you are using your cellular phones today, they work much better in the fiber optics associated with satellites and cellular phones. This technology, what we found with the Velvet Asity, has been translated directly into new aspects of fiber optics.
We have worked a lot on diseases and how diseases are transmitted in Madagascar - in this case malaria and different types of blood parasites. I am actively involved in all types of theoretical aspects of how pathogens are spread and the role of islands as unique ecosystems for studying different pathogens, the idea of the phylogeny of Plasmodium and Malaria and many different aspects of disease transmission.
This is a study that was published a couple of years ago and this actually has enormous bearing on research associated with AIDS. Lentiviruses are the precursor of the type of virus associated with AIDS, and we were able to figure out some important aspects of how these viruses hook into the genome of their host.
To leave all of that behind and to go onto something a bit more practical, the island of Madagascar is faced with massive deforestation, and there are very serious problems about the future of their ecosystems. This is one of our study areas. The man in the foreground is a friend who helped us for years in the forest and when he came back to Madagascar the forest was gone. He asked the Malagasy people what happened and they responded that they need to feed their families, and based on the current socio economic system of Madagascar, the only way to do so is to destroy the forest and plant rice and other crops.
Over the years we have been to hundreds of sites in Madagascar to do inventories. We have been able to verify specimens in museums and we have been able to put together a very large database on the animals of the island, which we have applied to different theoretical aspects of micro-endemism, etc. But the critical point is that we have been able to apply this information to
remaining forested areas and actually have come up with a very coherent program for conservation and what areas should have the highest priority on the island. Working together with the former president of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana, we actually devised a new system for the augmentation of the protected areas of Madagascar, which were increased by 200% over the past few years.
David Kraus, who is a paleontologist at Stony Brook in New York claims that one of the most unresolved aspects of the natural history of the world is the origin of the highly endemic fauna of Madagascar. We have been dealing with this question in many different theoretical ways. One of the things we have been doing is excavating caves and marshes to try to figure out what has happened to the island and the ecosystems over the past 10,000 to 15,000 years. This is the smallest existing species of lemur on the island - Microcebus. This is the largest existing species on the island - the Babakotia indria. These are all lemurs who have gone extinct over the past 5000 years. Very large animals. This one here was the size of a gorilla. We have been investigating what happened and different aspects of the fauna that have gone extinct.
We are in the process of finishing a book called “Windows Into the Extraordinary: Recent Land Mammals and the Ecosystems of Madagascar,” with a very talented Bulgarian artist by the name of Valizar Siminowsky. This is the way Valizar works. This is the skull of a Megaladapis. Valizar has training as an artist and as an animist not sure what this word is but animator? Animist is someone who worships rocks and paleontologist. He has physically, based on the structure of the skull, been able to put muscles onto the skull to recreate the form of the animal. Then comes the skin and he has been able to do some extraordinary things. Just to give you an idea of how some of these plates have been created - these are the claws of a giant, extinct eagle on Madagascar. They very much resemble this living African eagle. These are crowned eagles and we described the new, extinct species of crowned eagles from Madagascar a couple of years ago. In Africa the crowned eagles feed on lots of primates. Their main source of food is primates - such as shown here. They leave a signature on the bones of the animals that they have eaten such as the talon marks that went through the scapula here. The site where we found the bones of the extinct Madagascar eagle also contained the bones of a giant primate that is also extinct and had the same signature marks and that is how these different scenes were reconstructed. These are not 100% fictitious, but are based on biological parallels and biological realities that we could put together.
In the book we talk about lots of different ecosystems. This is the reconstruction of an area habitat that no longer exists on the island. This is the central highlands not too far from Antananarivo where there were giant elephant birds 2 1/2 times the size of an ostrich, and dwarf hippos in a whole ecosystem that has now disappeared. In the book we explain in detail what happened. Each site is taken as a piece of a puzzle to try to put together something much broader.
I have run the gamut from field biologist and many important things have happened. I have had many experiences, including lots of media coverage and films, etc. But as I move in my career, it becomes increasingly important to assure the future of conservation biology and people on Madagascar that might have a parallel vision that I have as to what is going to happen to the future and how they can interpret the natural world around them.
We now turn to the aspect of the future of education in Madagascar. In a very general way at both a local and international level, simply major decisive changes have to be made on the way that we use resources. If that doesn’t happen, the world as we treasure it today will be a very different place in just a few generations.
For Madagascar, enormous reforms are needed crossing the board between social, political, legal and economic fronts. The country experienced a coup d’état in 2009 and since that time, at the moment, is a time of complete anarchy and the place is falling apart with the Chinese basically picking it apart for any natural resources they can send back to China. One of the critical aspects is capacity building of national scientists including those working in the field of conservation biology.
Earlier I mentioned that with WWF we had created a project called the Ecology Training Program. About seven years ago, the training program was turned over to a Malagasy NGO called Vahatra. Vahatra in Malagasy means grassroots. We have our own building. The University of Antananarivo is just behind those pillars and we are just a few minutes walk from the university. It is a very nice place where we have an extensive library of natural history and science books. There are about 15 to 20 Malagasy graduate students who work with us, and we help them at all levels of their masters or Ph.D. research, seminars, and lots of activities to advance science on Madagascar for Malagasy scientists.
To turn back to what Mike Chamberlin wrote a few weeks ago in a message - this is something that we adhere to and as Nick Cuthbert trained Mike Chamberlin and Mike Chamberlin trained me, we move it onto another generation. The Madagascar university system is a French system which is slightly different than what you know. An equivalent of a master’s degree is a Dahurra. As students move from the theoretical aspect of Dahurra and are given the ok to move to research, we hold field schools for them. These field schools are in the middle of nowhere and feature a scientific smorgasbord where they are exposed to herpetology, mammalogy, etc. Over the course of 10 days they are able to understand different aspects of natural history - how you trap animals, etc. They may become very question-oriented and look for an organism to test their question or they become intrigued by an organism and find a question in order to study an organism. These are very important exercises for Malagasy scientists - in a very similar fashion of Mike Chamberlin taking me out to Beaver Island. For example, the gentleman here (referring to a photo) was my student at the Master’s level or PhD level and he recently defended his ash dahurra at the University of Paris and he is now the President of Vahatra. All of the scientific members of Vahatra are former students of mine who are now professors in the university system. Over the course of several decades now, literally thousands of Malagasy students have been out in the forest with us. In recent years lots of people are now coming from all over the world and we have a very strong collaboration with the University of KwaZula Natal, where I am also a professor. Lots of South Africans are coming to Madagascar to have joint exercises and field schools with Malagasy. There are lots of exercises to get Malagasy students and students from collaborative universities out in the field. These are important exercises from our perspective for the future of science, conservation and interpreting the natural world on Madagascar.
We work very closely with students presenting their thesis and memoirs which is also another critical aspect of the project. Over the course of the past twenty some years, I have been responsible for about 150 Madagascar graduate students.
Another very important pedagogic aspect of what we do is to make information available to non-scientists. We recently created a series, very similar to what Mary Cuthbert did with her father in the 1940’s, to make information on the unique organisms of Madagascar available to normal people. What I mean by normal people is non-scientists. This series started in 2011 and many volumes have been published and many more are in the works.
The Association of Vahatra publishes a journal both in French and English called the Malagasy Nature which is basically a journal created to allow young Malagasy scientists or Malagasy researchers who have less experience in the process of publication to get over that first difficult hurdle of writing a scientific paper. I am actively involved in writing lots of different books. The one on the right, Les Petits Naturale, is a book that has a strong pedagogic aspect for both French and Malagasy graduate students.
To summarize in a coherent fashion, my professional trajectory has been about curiosity in the world around us. As you saw, based on the research projects, different fields that I have been involved in are basically looking at the world with my eyes wide open and integrating many different types of study to understand the natural world around us. The mediums to understand and express are very different than what I used at Interlochen, but in many ways the Bauhaus tradition that I was trained in remains active in my mind and basically the medium has changed for expression rather that the types of questions I am really asking. As was mentioned earlier by Billy Charles, we are the cumulative sum of what is behind us. The means to learn from the past and advance knowledge to share with others is a critical aspect for the future of our planet. Life as it can be expressed by the arts and certain forms of science can be distilled down to a certain form of passion to be excited and always looking in front of you and behind you at some level to interpret and understand the world around us.
With that I would like to say thank you. I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
Kimpton: What an amazing life story and what an amazing contribution. There are two questions that have come forward. One is did you choose Madagascar or did Madagascar choose you?
Goodman: I think it was in 1986, I had just finished a project on looking at the medicinal plants of Bedouins of the Balochistan desert of Pakistan, and a friend of mine got a contract to do an environmental impact statement in Madagascar and he asked me to come along. It was with great pleasure that I went to Madagascar and there I found a world that was rather exceptional. I think in my heart I’m a Victorian naturalist and to be able to go into these completely unknown forest areas and discover remarkable things was a very nice thing for me to do. But more importantly, I was with a culture that was extremely open and willing to accept me. At that point, I didn’t speak a word of French, and of course, not a word of Malagasy. I found a very open, warm culture, and basically I decided to stay there.
Kimpton: Some of you may remember that at the awards ceremony of the Honors Convocation last May, we honored twenty of our most distinguished Academy alumni in our 50-year history. The award was called the Ovation Award and it’s given for distinguished leadership, service and commitment to Interlochen Arts Academy and to the arts in our lives. Steve, knowing last May that he would be with us for this symposium and rather than making two trips from Madagascar, chose today to accept his Ovation Award. As a 1975 graduate of the Academy, we are extraordinarily proud of his work. I would like to ask Gary Gatzke, Director of Alumni Engagement, to join us on stage. We believe that Steve’s accomplishments are so deserving of this recognition. Amongst all the people of our alumni, Steve’s contributions in science and in art, in his own very unique way, are very extraordinary. In recognition of his distinguished career achievement in bridging the world of the arts and science and redefining our mission, Steve we award you this Ovation Award for distinguished leadership as an Academy alumni.