Department of Geography and the Environment

Geography Colloquium: Dr. Megan Raby, The University of Texas at Austin

Fri, September 2, 2016 | CLA 0.130

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM


The History and Geography of Tropical Science: The Legacies of Field Stations

By Megan Raby - Assistant Professor, Department of History 

Why do field scientists work where they work in the tropics? Although tropical sites are in general underrepresented in ecology, Panama and Costa Rica are among the most studied countries in the world for their size. Some scholars
have correlated geographical disparities in ecological research with social and economic data, such as GDP. It is important to note, however, that this concentration of tropical research is also strongly associated with the presence of US-run tropical field stations––notably those of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica. These institutions have long histories. Both were formed in the 1960s and owe their existence to predecessors founded early in the century. Their location and long-term persistence, this talk will argue, was deeply shaped by the history of international relations in the circum-Caribbean region during the tumultuous twentieth century. This talk thus explores the political and intellectual history of scientists’ efforts to establish stations in the tropics, and the legacies of this history for tropical field science today.

Megan Raby is a historian of science and environment whose work emphasizes the transnational connections of science in the US and Latin America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her current book project is entitled American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science. It traces the emergence of the field of “tropical biology” within the US scientific community and the role that long-term, place-based research played in shaping ideas about the diversity of the tropics in the 20th century.

Professor Raby earned her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before joining the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and National Museum of American History.

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