Monday, 8 February 2016 — 12:00 noon — GAR 4.100

Megan Raby, UT

“The ‘Outstanding Difference'” (Chapter 4 of “American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science”)

Today, “biodiversity” is a central concept in ecology and international conservation, yet historians have paid little attention to the foundations of this idea. Although the term was coined in 1985, older concepts of “biological diversity” and “species diversity” were developed and refined over the course of the twentieth century as part of longstanding scientific efforts to understand the numbers and distribution of tropical species. This project examines how US ecologists’ experiences with environments and people in the circum-Caribbean transformed their ideas about life’s diversity. Both the key scientific concepts and the values embedded in the modern biodiversity discourse have roots in this encounter.


Megan Raby received her Ph.D. in the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012 and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the National Museum of American History in 2013. She is the author of “Ark and Archive: Making a Place for Long-term Research on Barro Colorado Island, Panama,” appearing in the December issue of “Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society,” and “‘The Jungle at Our Door’: Panama and American Ecological Imagination in the Twentieth Century,” soon appearing in the journal “Environmental History.”