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Elizabeth Olson - Southern Utah University. Cedar City, UT, US

Elizabeth Olson Elizabeth Olson

Associate Professor of Anthropology | Southern Utah University


Specializing in medical and environmental anthropology, ethnobotany, and Indigenous medicinal plants


Dr. Elizabeth Olson is an associate professor of anthropology at Southern Utah University. She is currently engaged in research regarding the globalization of medicinal plant knowledge and the relationships between indigenous, professional, and lay uses of medicinal plant knowledge across various ethnomedical systems.

Dr. Olson's anthropological research has looked at traditional healing systems in Utah, the Bolivian Amazon, and Mexico. Leading her to focus on the intersections among health, environments, and economic markets. Her book, "Indigenous Knowledge and Development: Livelihoods, health experiences and medicinal plant knowledge in a Mexican Biosphere Reserve," addresses topics of governance and conservation, ecotourism, and traditional medicine in the context of community development and conservation in the Biosphere Reserve.

Dr. Olson earned a bachelor of arts in anthropology from the University of Utah and a master of arts in anthropology and Ph.D. in anthropology from Case Western Reserve University.




Elizabeth Olson Publication Elizabeth Olson Publication



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Meet Our Professors: Liz Olson, Anthropology


Industry Expertise (3)

Writing and Editing

Alternative Medicine


Areas of Expertise (18)

Rural Humanitarian Aid in Guatemala

Traditional Healing Systems

Sustainable Development

Public Health

Medicinal Plants

Medical Anthropology

Indigenous Medicinal Plants

Health-Environment-Plant Nexus

Global Conservation



Environmental Anthropology

Community Health

Anthropology Research Methods

Anthropology of Nutrition

Les Mills BodyPump and BodyFlow

Trade and Globalization

Triathlon and Ultramarathon Training

Education (3)

Case Western Reserve University: Ph.D., Anthropology

Case Western Reserve University: M.A., Anthropology

University of Utah: H.B.A., Anthropology

Accomplishments (4)

Community Engaged Scholar (professional)

Southern Utah University, 2018

Favorite Professor (professional)

Student Residential Program at University of California, 2009

Graduate Dean's Instructional Excellence Award (professional)

Case Western Reserve University, 2007

Lenore A. Kola Graduate Student Community Service Award (personal)

Case Western Reserve University​, 2007

Affiliations (11)

  • American Anthropological Association
  • Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association
  • Council on Undergraduate Research
  • Culture & Agriculture Section of the American Anthropological Association
  • Phi Kappa Phi
  • Society of Ethnobiology
  • Society for Medical Anthropology
  • Cedar City Rotary Club
  • Rotaract Student Club & Sustainability Club
  • East Elementary Science Club
  • Cedar City Hispanic Community Health Fair

Languages (2)

  • Spanish
  • French

Media Appearances (1)

Anthropology Professor Finishes Third in 50k

SUU University News  online


Running for awareness, running for fun, running for personal health motivated Southern Utah University’s anthropology professor, Liz Olson, to take on a new challenge as the only woman from SUU to compete in the 2018 Santa Virtual Ultramarathon.

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Articles (3)

Introduction: Between Capitalism, the State, and the Grassroots: Mexico's Contribution to a Global Conservation Debate

Conservation & Society

Nora Haenn, Elizabeth Olson, Jose E. Martinez-Reyes and Leticia Durand


This introduction situates Mexico in the research on conservation and society, illustrating some nuances and characteristics of the Mexican model of biodiversity conservation in relation to neoliberal economic development and state formation. The paper critiques the way neoliberalism has become a common framework to understand conservation's social practices. Drawing on the ethnographies collected in this special section, the paper considers the importance of state formation and disorganised neoliberalism as intertwined phenomena that explain conservation outcomes. This approach lends itself to the papers' ethnographic descriptions that demonstrate a particular Mexican form of conservation that sits alongside a globalised biodiversity conservation apparatus.

Anthropology and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Summary of Quantitative Approaches to Traditional Knowledge, Market Participation, and Conservation

Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment

Elizabeth Olson


In this paper, I summarize some of the current trends in quantitative anthropological investigations of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and political–economic systems. I first provide an overview of the quantitative studies of TEK, focusing on the various research methods commonly employed in ethnoecology.

Notions of rationality and value production in ecotourism: examples from a Mexican biosphere reserve

Journal of Sustainable Tourism

Elizabeth Olson


In this paper, two unique ecotourism projects in the Sierra of Manantlán Biosphere Reserve in west central Mexico are analyzed in terms of the economic and ideological discourses they reflect. In this region, ecotourism is promoted as (1) a sustainable development platform that is purportedly (2) different from traditional tourism in terms of the socioeconomic and environmental impacts.

Courses (9)

ANTH 1010 Intro to Cultural Anthropology

Anthropology is concerned with the documentation and interpretation of diverse social and cultural settings. The course will introduce students to the key concepts of cultural anthropology through the discussion and analysis of fieldwork studies from around the world.

ANTH 3070 Medical Anthropology

This course introduces students to the theories and methods cultural anthropologists use to understand and study health, illness, health care, and health-seeking behavior from a cross-cultural​ perspective.

ANTH 3500 Ecological Anthropology

This course provides a survey of ecological and environmental anthropology. In particular, we are interested in how human relationships with environments over time, and in all parts of the globe, can impact our behavior, health, economics, and politics. To do this, we examine human-environmental relationships from anthropological perspectives and research on the interrelationships between humans and environments.

ANTH 3600 Cultures of Mexico

This variable topic course focuses on the anthropology of a different culture or geographical region. Anthropological topics will be covered to provide students with a deep appreciation of the archaeological, linguistic, social, and economic dynamics of a population or region. Repeatable with different topic up to 12 credits toward the major.

ANTH 3990 Anthropological Theory & Methods

This seminar provides an overview of the major theoretical schools in Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology and introduces students to fundamental research methods practiced within Anthropology. The course employs a historical perspective, moving from the 19th through 21st centuries. Theories from each era are matched with examples of appropriate methodologies, showing their interrelation.

ANTH 4700 Ethnobotany: Medicinal Herb Garden Practicum

Occasionally Anthropology faculty will offer courses on a special area of interest or a particularly timely topic under this course number. The class schedule and handouts in the department will provide further information on each Special Topic course.

ANTH 4700 Anthropology of Nutrition & Community

Occasionally Anthropology faculty will offer courses on a special area of interest or a particularly timely topic under this course number. The class schedule and handouts in the department will provide further information on each Special Topic course.

ANTH 4999 Senior Capstone

After selecting a faculty advisor, students have two options: 1) a practicum involving internship, service learning, and/or civic engagement experience(s) with cultural research and cultural problem analysis; or 2) a research project in which one defines a topic, conducts research, and prepares findings. Restricted to Senior Anthropology majors.

HIST 4830 Hispanic Heritage Week

HIST 4830 Hispanic Heritage Week