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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Talk: Adventures in ornithology: Transformations in a field science in Sri Lanka

Adventures in ornithology: Transformations in a field science in Sri Lanka

by Arjun Guneratne
Associate Professor, Depts of Anthropology & Asian Languages and Cultures, Macalester College

Date: Friday, September 16. 2011
Time: Coffee & Cookies 3:15 pm, Talk 3:30 pm
Place: 445 Blegen Hall
Series: Geography Coffee Hour

This talk examines the shift in the techniques of ornithology from a field science based on collecting specimens, in which the chief tools were rifles, shotguns and other kinds of collecting equipment to modern birdwatching, which relies on field guides and optical
equipment. While this shift has been generally attributed to the availability of new technology and the development of a conservationist ethic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that was less tolerant of broad-scale collecting of specimens, there has
been no detailed study of the particular social and political forces that impacted this transformation in particular contexts. In this talk, I examine the transformation of ornithology in its Sri Lankan context and relate it to the rise of a native Sri Lankan elite during the middle of the 20th century, which did not share the values and interests of the British expatriates who had established ornithology in Sri Lanka. This transformation can be attributed to the development of new technologies such as field guides and binoculars, the emergence of a preservationist ethos during the first half of the twentieth
century that frowned on collecting animal specimens generally, but also the transformations in the social foundations of birding, as it shifted from one social group (and its system of values) to another, and the institutional constraints that were put on collecting specimens as political power shifted and new values were given
expression in law.

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