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Demography from physical cemeteries, "virtual cemeteries," and census data

Author(s): Emily Dangremond1, Janet Lanza2

1. Roosevelt University 2. University of Arkansas at Little Rock

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Summary:
Laboratory experiment included in Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology (TIEE) Volume 8. Learning objective: Students will learn how to create life tables and survivorship curves using data they collect from online cemetery records.

Description

The original TIEE lab is a rich and flexible version of widely used demography exercises that have been previously based on data collected from cemeteries. This lab teaches life tables and survivorship curves. Small student groups develop and answer questions comparing the survival patterns of different groups of humans (e.g., groups that differ in geographic area, time period, gender, socio-economic background, or ethnicity). Data on human demography are available from three sources: (1) tombstones in local cemeteries that provide ages at death, (2) on-line cemetery records, and (3) census records that provide the numbers of people alive in different age classes. Students may also compare survivorship curves on the same groups generated by different data sets.

I implemented this module in an upper division Ecology class as a lab activity. Students worked on the data collection during one 3-hour lab period and presented their results a week later. I modified this module by only giving students the online cemetery record option, as it was too cold to visit cemeteries in person and I wanted them to collect data from cemetery records. However, one group did use census data so I provided them with the original module instructions.

I had students do an in-class presentation on the question they asked, how they collected their data, and what they concluded. They were required to present and submit their life tables and survivorship curves.

 

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