JamesPenn  Jim Penn                    Office: B - 4 - 205 Mackinac Hall
Assistant Professor
Department of Geography and Planning
B - 4 - 205 Mackinac Hall
Allendale, MI    49401
616-331-8522 (Phone)

*We are located on the 4th floor of the new B Wing of Mackinac Hall.

B.A.  in Political Science, Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security (ACDIS), University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Minor: American History.

M.A. in Latin American Studies, Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD), University of Florida.

Ph.D. in Geography, University of Florida. Concentration:  Tropical Agriculture.

Certificate in GPS mapping and GIS from Trimble Corporation.


Geographic Areas of Concentration: Latin America, Amazonia, Global Patterns

Research Interests: Non-timber Forest Resources, Agroforestry Systems, Natural Resource Use, Globalization and Development, Protected Areas, Demographic Change.

Courses I currently teach at GVSU:

Approach to Teaching and Advising:

Broadly speaking, my interests are in the environment, land use, and development. My philosophy is to share with students what I have learned from my experiences, including professional work, research, or volunteer activities outside of academia.

The courses I teach contain both a current and historical geographic perspective. For example, we will learn how " globalization" is not a new phenomenon. Local communities and cultures have been impacted by global forces and responding to global change for centuries. By examining both the past and present we can better understand processes driving local changes, whether  in Amazonia or here in West Michigan. My background in international security is also reflected in the content of my courses, as we examine geopolitics, drug cultivation and changing political geographies. Geography is a diverse, exiting and interdisciplinary field of study. In class we will examine case studies of the work geographers and their students conduct across the globe. Happily, we find that their many interesting new publications as well as historical works are readily available in the GVSU libraries.

I encourage you to get involved in extracurricular activities, and to study abroad. Learning to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing techniques will help prepare you for employment opportunities, as will learning another language and developing your intercultural skills. Geography is an interdisciplinary field of study. Learning is best achieved by working not only with specialists from diverse fields of study, but directly with local people. When it comes to "environmental education", the real experts are those who have lived for generations with nature, living off the land and its resources.

Research Interests and Fieldwork:

1: The use and cultivation of non-timber forest species, 2: Palm swamp conservation, 3: Protected areas, and 4: Demographic change in the Peruvian Amazon. I also work as a rural extensionist with Peruvians in the area of the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve (RCTT). A key part of this work involves the establishment of sustainable agroforestry systems that cultivate ecologically and economically important forest species. Much of this fieldwork is supported by the Rainforest Conservation Fund of Chicago, Illinois.

Click on this link for an introduction to Ethnobotany and Agroforestry in the region: Click here

Click on this link for a collection of some of my favorite species and their uses:   Click here

In Amazonia, work in conservation and development with local communities presents very challenging situations. These collaborative efforts provide important lessons in sustainable development with both environmental and social implications for the future. Despite setbacks and problems, these efforts do bear fruit, and can be very rewarding. The same applies to our struggle to provide the most basic healthcare services to rural areas.

Recent Publications:

Penn, J.  2012. The unconquered: In search of the Amazon’s last uncontacted tribes. (Review)  Journal Latin American Geography 11(1): 188-90.

Penn, J. 2010. Domestication centers. In B. Warf (Ed.), Sage encyclopedia of human geography (pp.374-378). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Penn, J.W., Jr. 2008. Non-timber forest products in Peruvian Amazonia: Changing patterns of  economic exploitation. Focus on Geography 51 (2): 18-25.

Pinedo-Panduro, M. and J. Penn 2008. Camu-camu: A sustainable option for agroindustry in the Peruvian Amazon. FAO Non-wood News 17:52

Penn, J.W., Jr. 2006. The domestication of camu camu (Myrciaria dubia): A tree planting programme in the Peruvian Amazon. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 16 (1): 85-101.

Miller, R.P., Penn, J.W., Jr, and J. van Leeuwen. 2006. Amazonian Homegardens: Their ethnohistory and potential contribution to agroforestry development. Pp. 43 -60 In: Kumar, B.K. and P.K. Nair (eds.) Tropical Homegardens: A Time-Tested Example of Sustainable Agroforestry. Advances in Agroforestry 3. Dordrecht: Springer Science.

Penn, J. and G. Neise. 2004. Aguaje palm agroforestry in the Peruvian Amazon. The Palmeteer Vol. 24, No. 1, 15-18.

Meyer, D., and J. Penn. 2003. An overview of the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Communal Reserve. Rapid Biological Inventories: 11. 176-177. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.

Bodmer, R.E., C.M. Allen, J.W. Penn, R. Aquino, and C. Reyes. 1999. Evaluating sustainable use of wildlife in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, Peru. America Verdi No. 4a. 36 pp.

Bodmer, R. E. and J. W. Penn, Jr.  1997.  Manejo de Vida Silvestre em Comunidades na Amazonia.  Pp. 52-69 In: Claudio Valladares-Padua and Richard E. Bodmer (eds.), Manejo e Conservacão de Vida Silvestre no Brasil. Belém, Brasil, Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas.

Bodmer, R. E., J. W. Penn, P. E. Puertas, L. I. Moya and T. G. Fang. 1997. Linking Conservation and Local People through Sustainable Use of Natural Resources: Community-Based Management in the Peruvian Amazon. Pp. 315-358 In: Curtis H. Freese (ed.), Harvesting Wild Species: Implications for Biodiversity Conservation. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Links to articles and web pages:

Non-timber forest products in Peruvian Amazonia: Changing patterns of economic exploitation.

The cultivation of camu camu (Myrciaria dubia): A tree planting programme in the Peruvian Amazon.

Camu camu: A conservation and development issue in Peru

The Aguaje Palm: Importance to the ecology and economy in the Peruvian Amazon

Aguaje palms in the local economy

Blackwater rivers: A community guards a precious ecosystem