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Knowing Global Landscapes: Field Science and Local Society in Brazil, Congo, and India

Sat, April 2, 8:30 to 10:00am, Westin Seattle Hotel, Grand Crescent

Session Submission Type: Panel


Science is central to environmental history, an invaluable tool that helps us to better understand human interactions with the natural world over time. Yet, science is also socially constructed knowledge, produced in specific times and places by human actors subject to an array of economic, political, social, and cultural influences. Nowhere has this been more evident than “in the field,” where the activities of scientists overlapped with histories of exploration, colonialism, economic development, and environmental transformation. Indeed, the conditions of field practice varied widely across geographic space and have always been mediated by particular landscapes and the societies that inhabited and shaped them. This panel unites scholarship on three world regions – Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, and India – to explore how local environments and societies influence the production of scientific knowledge. Kauffman’s paper examines interactions between field scientists and local populations in the Brazilian Pantanal (1910-1930). While scientists depended upon the knowledge of local people, their writings depicted the Pantanal as an isolated repository of zoological specimens, which contributed to the discursive erasure of rural populations from the region. Jacobs examines the career of American ornithologist James Chapin in the Belgian Congo. She uses a rare source to expand our understanding of collaborations between African vernacular experts and foreign scientists: a set of letters in Lingala, Swahili, and French that Chapin received from former assistants. Finally, Lewis considers the development of snow leopard science in India (1967-2012), which occurred in a matrix of interactions between a variety of stakeholders. He reveals how these interactions contributed to particular types of scientific knowledge and conservation policies that are transforming conservation biology. Collectively, these papers demonstrate the importance of bringing local voices back into scientifically informed decisions about conservation and sustainable development in the world’s biodiverse landscapes.

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