Human Ecology -- A Gathering of Perspectives: Portraits from the Past - Prospects for the Future
Wednesday, August 12, 2015: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
329, Baltimore Convention Center
Richard J. Borden, College of the Atlantic
Robert Dyball, Australian National University
V. Beth Olsen, University of Maryland
Ecology, as an interdisciplinary science, has always wrestled with topics of complexity and comprehensiveness. One of the most challenging issues has occurred along the line between natural ecology and human ecology. For some, ecology should be the straightforward scientific study of nature; for others, humans are an inescapable part of the living world and must be included within the domain of ecology. These concerns date back to before ESA’s founding; indeed, they were a significant aspect of it. The aim of this session is to review this history, to gather selected perspectives of key individuals, and examine their relevance vis-a-vis ecology’s future. Presenters will give a ‘portrait’ of a historical person -- reviewing his/her early life, educational background, professional contributions and broader influence. The ‘human ecological’ thinking of these individuals will be highlighted within the context of their lifetime, as well as in terms of its current and prospective significance. We begin with Ellen Swallow Richards, an MIT chemist/public health researcher, who visited Haeckel’s lab in Jena and – some say – was the first American to publicly use the word ‘ecology’, cf Boston Globe 1892. The next three portrayals are of ESA past-presidents who, in various ways, touched upon human-environmental issues. Victor Shelford, ESA’s first president, was an ecological scientist and an avid conservationist. Herein lay the perennial ‘is-ought’ complications of humans-in-nature -- still present today. Paul Sears was likewise a serious scientist-conservationist, and also a forthright advocate for human ecology. Frank Golley, the most current of our selected ESA past-presidents, advanced landscape ecology and brought emphasis to environmental ethics and other human-oriented issues. The remaining portraits focus on significant contributors to the history of ecological thought, whose background and influence lay beyond ESA. Rachel Carson, through careful research and skillful writing, conveyed the basic concepts of ecology to everyday language. So did René Dubos -- a leading scientist and a prolific author who developed a rich range of human ecological ideas. Ian McHarg brought ecology to regional planning through his pioneering program at the University of Pennsylvania and influential book Design With Nature. We end with Gregory Bateson, whose work on the ‘ecology of mind’ rendered a distinctive exploration of ecological epistemology and the deeper questions of mind-in-nature. Taken together, this gathering of perspectives provides a multi-faceted overview of the meaning(s) of human ecology from the past -- in the present -- and for the future.