on wild lives and “wildlife”

A year or two ago Peter Alagona, an environmental historian at UC-Santa Barbara, had the great idea of using the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Peter Matthiessen’s classic Wildlife in America as an excuse to get a group of historians to collectively reflect on the history of wildlife conservation. The half-dozen or so short articles that resulted will appear in print in Environmental History this summer, but they’re already starting to trickle out online as they work their way through the publishing process.

My piece is a little etymology, a little cultural history, and a little animal studies; it argues that the term “wildlife” is a twentieth-century invention that obscured a richer (though not unproblematic) nineteenth-century discourse about “wild lives.” Though several people helped me with it, I’m especially grateful to Leo Marx, whose work on the term “technology” provided inspiration and who asked some pointed and extremely helpful questions about one of my earliest (and much longer) drafts. I’m quite sure that I still haven’t answered some of Leo’s questions, but the piece is much better for them.

“tracking nature” in chicago

For the next several months I’ll be living and working in Hyde Park, where I’m teaching a course on “Tracking Nature” as a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago, with the support of the folks at the Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine. The course will trace the idea that nature is in motion through the recent history of the environmental sciences. Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are two clear targets, but other issues — “natural” disasters, for example — are also on the itinerary. Here’s the brief course description: Continue reading ““tracking nature” in chicago”

in the pipeline

I’ve spent the past month or so putting the finishing touches on two pieces of writing that I’ve been hanging out with for a while now. One is a short invited piece on the history of “wildlife,” as a word and a concept, for Environmental History. The article is now press and should be in print by July as part of a forum on wildlife history. The other is an essay on the introduction of wildlife radiotracking to Yellowstone National Park and Nepal’s Chitwan National Park in the 1960s and 1970s, which should appear in an edited volume on “national parks in transnational perspective” by the end of the year. More details when the pieces actually come out, but at the moment it just feels good to know they’re on their way. Continue reading “in the pipeline”

new work in animal studies

The rhetoric journal JAC has just published a special issue on animals that includes my review (pdf) of Animal Encounters (2009), a volume of essays edited by Tom Tyler and Manuela Rossini. The number of collections along these lines has grown explosively in recent years, but for anyone interested in the literary and cultural-studies side of animal studies, both the JAC issue and Animal Encounters merit a close read. Unfortunately the JAC issue is not yet available online; hopefully it will be soon.

‘taking the earth’s pulse’

The program committee for the next annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History (12-17 April 2011, Phoenix, Arizona) has accepted a panel proposal that I helped put together with Gina Rumore (the organizer),  James Collins, and Erik Conway. The panel is titled “Taking the Earth’s Pulse: Scientific Networks and the Challenges of Collecting Environmental Data.” We’re hoping it will provoke vigorous discussion at the intersection of environmental history and the history of science and that it will provide some new perspectives on recent efforts to build continent- and globe-spanning networks of ecological surveillance.

conservation biology and the regulatory archive

As of 1 September 2010, I’m a research scholar in Department II of the Max Planck Institute for the the History of Science, where I’m participating in a project on the Sciences of the Archive. The project aims to historicize “data” —  a concept which, as my colleagues at the MPIWG write, has typically been considered “too basic to merit a history.” Continue reading “conservation biology and the regulatory archive”

‘a difficult time with the permit process’

The Journal of the History of Biology is publishing a special issue on environmental history under the guest editorship of Libby Robin and Jane Carruthers. It’s not yet in print, but all of the articles are now available online, including my “A Difficult Time with the Permit Process.” Continue reading “‘a difficult time with the permit process’”

animal history

I’ve renamed my list of “animal studies core readings”  an “animal history” list to more accurately reflect its (and my) real focus. Many works that are not strictly historical in methodology or content are still included, of course. For better coverage of sociology, philosophy, literary studies, etc., see the very extensive animal studies bibliography assembled by Linda Kalof and her colleagues at Michigan State University.