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Tanzania: Ecology & Human Origins

Dar es Salaam & Tarangire field site, Tanzania

ACM Tanzania video

Courtesy of Carla Eckland, Grinnell College

Tanzania boasts some of the most famous ecological and paleoanthropological sites in the world. The grasslands and savannahs of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire National Park are host to incredible wildlife communities, with elephants, giraffes, lions, and migratory herds of wildebeest, as well as an amazing diversity of primates, birds, and reptiles. These tropical ecosystems are adjacent to the world-heritage sites of Laetoli and Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys made their important discoveries of early hominid remains.  Add to this the cultural mix of pastoralist Maasai and Datoga tribes, along with the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers, and you have a combination of ecological, anthropological, and cultural resources that is unique to northern Tanzania.

The ACM Tanzania program is designed specifically to take advantage of this unique combination of resources. It is offered each fall semester, and the focus of the program is paleontology, cultural anthropology, and savannah ecology. It combines classroom instruction at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) with extensive field courses and field work in northern Tanzania.  At the heart of the program is a field practicum in the natural and social sciences, intended to give students training and first-hand experience with the design, implementation, and reporting of inquiry in the field. In the program director’s research methods course, taught by a visiting faculty member from an ACM college, students are guided in the development of their field practicum projects, studying research design and data-gathering skills appropriate for fieldwork at or near the Tarangire National Park site. Courses in Kiswahili, Human Evolution, and the Ecology of the Maasai Ecosystem, taught by UDSM faculty, provide students with the background and linguistic preparation necessary for their time in the field.

The program is housed on the UDSM campus; during the first five weeks participants live in university residence halls and have access to library, cafeteria, and other UDSM facilities. UDSM faculty also serve as advisors to guide the field practicum in specialized areas of study, helping students develop and refine their proposals for answerable questions and testable hypotheses, test ways to gather and analyze appropriate data and how to evaluate and present findings from the field.  During the six-week field practicum, students spend two weeks visiting important field sites in northern Tanzania’s Rift Valley, along with four weeks at a permanent tent camp.  From the camp, students plan and implement a schedule with days allocated for gathering data from the field site (typically with assistance from other students), analyzing data, planning follow-up data-gathering, and assisting other students with the collection of data.  The practicum is both individual and collaborative in nature, so as to expose each student to a range of questions, hypotheses, types of data, and analysis.  For the last four weeks of the program, students live with host families in Dar es Salaam, while they analyze, write up, and present the results of their field practicum and complete the work for their other three courses.

For more detailed information, please use the links located on the left-hand side of this page.

Quick Facts

  • Term: Fall semester
  • Language prerequisite: None
  • Language of instruction: English (plus Kiswahili language class)
  • Living arrangements: Dormitory, campsite, & host family
  • Who can apply? Students from any college or university

Application deadlines

Fall semester 2017

Final deadline: March 15, 2017

Fall semester 2018

Final deadline: March 15, 2018

If the deadline has passed and you are interested in applying, contact the ACM Office immediately. Late applications may be accepted on a space-available basis.

Program contacts

Emily Gaul
Assistant Director of Off-Campus Study Programs

11 E. Adams Street, Suite 800
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: 312.561.5919

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Publications & Resources

ACM Tanzania Program brochure

Tanzania Student Handbook - Fall 2015

Tanzania: Ecology & Human Origins

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Tim Lee Tanzania is like vanilla ice cream and caramel fudge topped with some sprinkles. Once you have it, you can’t have enough of it. Tanzania is a beautiful country full of adventures with very welcoming people. The program is designed so that the students can explore the wonders of Tanzania. We visited multiple national parks, climbed Kopjes, drank Konyagi, and tasted the spices of Zanzibar. A unique part of the program is that it involves an independent research project areas such as ecology or anthropology, providing students with the opportunity to study Tanzania more in-depth. Studying there, I fell in love with the country and the people. I hope I can go back soon!

—Tim Lee, Tanzania, Fall 2009

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