Ecological Century: Perspectives on the Evolution of the Discipline
Wednesday, August 13, 2014: 4:30 PM-6:30 PM
Exhibit Hall, Sacramento Convention Center
Kathleen J. Fichtel, West Virginia University
Juliana C. Mulroy, Denison University
The Historical Records Committee is sponsoring this session in order to provide a forum for fostering discussion about the history of ecology and of the Ecological Society of America as the Centennial approaches. The founding of ESA in 1915 signaled ecology’s rising status as a distinct scientific discipline. Over the past century, ESA has united scientists with a wide range of backgrounds and research interests focused on understanding the interactions of biota and environment and how these relationships change through space and time.
This session emphasizes the importance of history and philosophy for better understanding contemporary ecology, especially the ideological foundations for ecological research in process today. We begin with a presentation of how the emergence of digital databases and analytical methods can make this understanding easier, comprehensive and accurate. We describe an evolving database of early members of ESA that demonstrates the diversity of interests, approaches and demographic characteristics of the society, and introduce online resources available to members interested in exploring the history of ecology and ESA.
Three posters discuss institutions and the development of ecology and ecologists within them. ESA co-founder Victor Shelford’s undergraduate experience at West Virginia University marked a major step in his professional development. The Illinois state system of higher education fostered a number of early ecologists at diverse campuses. Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences provided the locus for the career of Eminent Ecologist Ruth Patrick.
Ideas as well as institutions have played key roles in the advancement of ecology. The historical connection between ecology and eugenics is not well known, but it was present from the earliest days of ESA. Zoologist Aute Richards exemplifies how eugenics marked research and thinking in ecology both before and after World War II. The history of vegetation classification, a long-term ongoing collaborative effort, provides an example of how changing conceptual structures and methods interact over time. More broadly, many concepts have emerged in ecology over time. Which of these is useful, and to whom? A presentation on ecological concepts incorporates results of a discussion from Special Session X, including the relationship between concepts learned in the classroom and as actually employed in practice.