Thursday, 8 February 2018 — 3:30 pm — IHS — GAR 4.100

Megan Raby, UT History Department

Faculty New Book Talk: 

American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science

Biodiversity has been a key concept in international conservation since the 1980s, yet historians have paid little attention to its origins. Uncovering its roots in tropical fieldwork and the southward expansion of U.S. empire at the turn of the twentieth century, Megan Raby details how ecologists took advantage of growing U.S. landholdings in the circum-Caribbean by establishing permanent field stations for long-term, basic tropical research. From these outposts of U.S. science, a growing community of American “tropical biologists” developed both the key scientific concepts and the values embedded in the modern discourse of biodiversity. Considering U.S. biological fieldwork from the era of the Spanish-American War through the anticolonial movements of the 1960s and 1970s, this study combines the history of science, environmental history, and the history of U.S.–Caribbean and Latin American relations. In doing so, Raby sheds new light on the origins of contemporary scientific and environmentalist thought and brings to the forefront a surprisingly neglected history of twentieth-century U.S. science and empire.


Megan Raby is Assistant Professor of History and a Faculty Associate at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science, published by University of North Carolina Press in November 2017. She earned her Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2012. Her work has appeared in the journals Environmental History and Isis—the latter was awarded the History of Science Society’s 2016 Price/Webster Prize. Read more about Dr. Raby’s work at:

View the pre-circulated reading selection at:

(email to receive printable .pdf.)