Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Columbia University
2022 to 2023
Unnatural Selection: Animal Acclimatization, Nation-Building, and the Transformation of American Nature, 1865-1970
This dissertation is the first dedicated study of the American animal acclimatization movement. This massive post-Civil War project of environmental renovation intentionally introduced – that is, “acclimatized” – non-native species to new areas in order to create lasting wild populations. Acclimatizers ranged from government bodies like the US Fish Commission to private individuals, and they introduced dozens of new species and millions of individual creatures to America. Yet historians have underestimated the extent of US acclimatization and its transnational links. Moreover, grandiose nation-building notions, suffused with contemporary Euro-American racial attitudes and anxieties, were the main intellectual impulse behind American acclimatization, not aesthetic or sentimental motivations as previous historians have contended. Finally, this project will interest historians of biology because it reveals the conceptual prehistory of “invasive species.” Known then as “noxious” or “injurious” species, acclimatization efforts sparked some of the first sustained investigations into the negative impacts of invasive species.