Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sarah Claypool, Washington College's 2009 Frederick Douglass Fellow, Explores Native American Healing Practices

Chestertown – Mainstream American culture has gleaned many things from the first residents of this land – including a rich body of medicinal lore and healing wisdom. The quest for this knowledge has been a journey filled with discovery for Sarah Claypool '10, this year’s recipient of the prestigious Frederick Douglass Fellowship at Washington College. Now in its fifth year, the Frederick Douglass Fellowship supports independent student work in African-American studies, Native American studies, and related fields. The fellowship, which provides an annual grant of up to $1,500 to a Washington College sophomore or junior and a $500 honorarium to a faculty mentor paired with the student, is administered through the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. “Sarah is a chemistry major, and her fellowship project allowed her to reach out beyond the conventional boundaries of the sciences and investigate how medicine intersects with history and culture," said Adam Goodheart, the Starr Center's Hodson Trust-Griswold Director. "Fellowships like this one encourage students and their faculty mentors to explore new fields and disciplines, in the keeping with the best traditions of the liberal arts."

Claypool’s project, “Blending the Old with the New: Influence of Native American Healing on Western Medicinal Practices,” yielded a cornucopia of revelations, both medical and sociological – from the value of cranberries as an arrow-wound cure to the respective roles of the shaman and the elder woman in society. Claypool unearthed an indigenous pharmacopia of hundreds of herbs, crops, tree barks and other gifts from nature, many of which – such as ginseng and echinacea – can be found on the shelves of health-food stores today.

In the holistic approach of traditional Native American cultures, Claypool found, spiritual purification was a vital component of physical wellness. The goal, then as now, was a better life through better health. As a Hopi blessing put it, “May you be happy, may you be free of any illness, may you reach old age, and may you pass peacefully on in your sleep.”

Sarah Claypool and Dr. Anne Marteel-Parrish

Claypool, a Class of 2010 chemistry major with a particular interest in pharmacology, worked closely on the project with her faculty mentor, Dr. Anne Marteel-Parrish, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, who found herself swept up in the excitement of the quest. “Sarah was so enthusiastic and passionate about the project that she pushed me to keep up with her findings,” Dr. Marteel-Parrish said. “Her project contributed to an in-depth understanding of the influence of Native American healing on Western medicinal practices from a spiritual, chemical and medicinal point of view.”

“When I was chosen to be the Frederick Douglass Fellow, I knew that I was given this amazing opportunity to expand my horizons in the field of research,” said Claypool. “What I did not expect however, was that the more knowledge I gained over the semester, the more I wanted to know, which in turn has driven me to make numerous connections and continue my research into my senior year.”

The Douglass Fellowship was established to encourage students to develop independent projects exploring the culture and history of diverse sections of the American population. Each year, during the spring semester, it also brings to campus a visiting professional (scholar, writer, musician, or artist) actively engaged in the study or interpretation of African American history and related fields. This year’s Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow, political journalist and author Fraser Smith, spent a week in residence at Washington College visiting classes, discussing his recent book on Maryland’s distinctive contributions to the civil rights movement, and talking with student journalists about the future of the field. Both fellowships are supported by gifts from Maurice Meslans and Margaret Holyfield of St. Louis.

The author, activist and diplomat Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), for whom the fellowship was named, was born in Talbot County, Md., about 30 miles south of Washington College, and retained a deep attachment to the Eastern Shore until the end of his life.

Click here to see photos of Sarah's presentation.

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