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The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000

, 328 pages

13 halftones

October 2008



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The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000

In the 1890s, several initiatives in American botany converged. The creation of new institutions, such as the New York Botanical Garden, coincided with radical reforms in taxonomic practice and the emergence of an experimental program of research on evolutionary problems. Sharon Kingsland explores how these changes gave impetus to the new field of ecology that was defined at exactly this time. She argues that the creation of institutions and research laboratories, coupled with new intellectual directions in science, were crucial to the development of ecology as a discipline in the United States.

The main concern of ecology—the relationship between organisms and environment—was central to scientific studies aimed at understanding and controlling the evolutionary process. Kingsland considers the evolutionary context in which ecology arose, especially neo-Lamarckian ideas and the new mutation theory, and explores the relationship between scientific research and broader theories about social progress and the evolution of human civilization.

By midcentury, American ecologists were leading the rapid development of ecosystem ecology. At the same time, scientists articulated a sharp critique of modern science and society in the postwar context, foreshadowing the environmental critiques of the 1960s. As the ecosystem concept evolved, so too did debates about how human ecology should be incorporated into the biological sciences. Kingsland concludes with an examination of ecology in the modern urban environment, reflecting on how scientists are now being challenged to overcome disciplinary constraints and produce innovative responses to pressing problems.

The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000 offers an innovative study not only of the scientific landscape in turn-of-the-century America, but of current questions in ecological science.

Sharon Kingsland is a professor of the history of science at the Johns Hopkins University.

"A new approach to ecology... well worth consideration by ecologists, science historians, and anyone interested in how human ecology should be integrated with the biological sciences."

"Kingsland does a masterful job weaving together the history of ecology in the United States."

"Kingsland has ambitiously followed the growth of American ecology from the end of the 19th throughout the 20th century, looking at social, economic, and scientific influences... Quite worthwhile for any ecologist interested in the history of their field."

"Kingsland breaks new ground by tightly linking the intellectual history of ecological science with changes in the land."

"Anyone interested in the history of American ecology and its relationship to our changing perspective on the environment will find this a worthwhile read and a clear exposition of those changes."

"In contrast to other historical accounts, Sharon Kingsland’s book emphasizes the ways that human ecology centered in urban settings has shaped the discipline."

"The details of how the field began and the accounts of the ecological pioneers make this book an enjoyable account of scientific history."

"This fine book provides an excellent opportunity to reflect back on the ecological sciences and their entanglement with environmental concerns in the USA... A refreshing and novel approach that breaks new grounds in our understanding of how ecology became a dominating scientific approach to the environment."

"Deeply researched and well written, Kingsland's study is likely to become a standard reference for scholars from many fields."

"An important, innovative scholarly contribution that nicely captures both the excitement and frustration of American botanists as they struggled to professionalize their discipline. Kingsland does a marvelous job of reconstructing the American botanical landscape during a crucial period in its development."