Histories of Biodiversity

2021 Faculty Research Award

Award Period: 2021-2023

Erika Lorraine Milam, the Charles C. and Emily R. Gillespie Professor in the History of Science, will explore the history of biodiversity as a concept in the life sciences and humanities. This project builds on Milam’s ongoing work to chart the history of long-term field sites dedicated to the study of animal behavior and the origins of behavioral ecology as a discipline. She plans to expand her work by visiting and interviewing preeminent behavioral ecologists, including those who founded and work on the Kluane Red Squirrel Project in Canada, the Amboseli Baboon Research Project (co-founded by Princeton’s Jeanne Altmann) in Kenya, the Kalahari Meerkat Project in South Africa, and the Shark Bay Dolphin Project in Australia. Milam will document the scientists’ shared experiences as they established, expanded and — due to age and COVID-19 — confronted the future of their landmark projects, all while witnessing dramatic changes in climate, land use, and human-animal interactions over the years. Milam plans to organize a related conference in which invited speakers will discuss the social and political contexts of the different ways that scientists and humanists have conceptualized biodiversity.

Hyenas, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya (Photo by Erika Lorraine Milam)

Educational Impact

Milam will draw from her project to incorporate a field component to her history/environmental studies course, “History of Ecology and Environmentalism,” such as a field trip to the New Jersey Pine Barrens to discuss the state’s unique ecologies in the context of John McPhee’s book, “The Pine Barrens.”

Participating Departments


Charles C. and Emily R. Gillespie Professor in the History of Science and Professor of History; HMEI Associated Faculty