Emily Wakild was recently awarded a National Science Foundation, Science, Technology and Society Scholars Award for her project, “Comparative Histories of Scientific Conservation: Nature, Science, and Society in Patagonian and Amazonian South America.” This grant of nearly $200,000 will allow professor Wakild a year of research and writing time for this project as well as provide funds for undergraduate research assistants and the development of a teaching website for the project. She will work in archives in Chile and Brazil and add this information to work she has previously done in Peru and Argentina. The project aims to enter the history of conservation in South America into contemporary debates about land management and nature protection.
Professor Wakild will research and analyze the evolution of conservation-oriented field science in six park areas of Patagonia and Amazonia over the last 140 years.
In the twentieth century, conservation transformed the landscape of South America by putting nearly a fifth of the continent under various types of nature protection. Many of the parks straddle international boundaries and do so in very different environments, from montane snow and ice (e.g. Argentina and Chile) to Amazonian lowlands (e.g. Peru, Brazil).
The parks have had positive and negative implications for social and political relations both internally and internationally. But these parks exist in a historical vacuum. Little comparative work has been done on their origins, evolution, and societal meaning. As a result, basic interpretive assessments have not been made. South American nations were among the first to create parks (starting in 1903) and protect the highest number of large reserves, (83 over 1 million hectares). These nations also retain the greatest percentage of reserves with people living inside (by some estimates 85.9 percent).
This project merges the history of science with environmental history by asking, how has the development of natural field sciences led to the establishment, maintenance, and promotion of national parks in Amazonia and Patagonia. It focuses on how science is made (and who makes science), and how scientific ideas circulate locally, nationally, and internationally.
Despite their seemingly benign presence, national parks have a contested history–one that explains much about how science becomes policy, how scientific understandings shape the landscape, and how global networks of scientific knowledge have influenced the protection of nature.