History of biology, Environmental history, History of the field sciences, American science, Cultural and intellectual history, Science and technology studies, US history, History of the US and the world, Latin American and Caribbean history, US Western history, Nineteenth and twentieth centuries, history of tropical biology, history of tropical ecology, history of tropical research stations


Current Book: 
American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.


Biodiversity has been a key concept in international conservation since the 1980s, yet historians have paid little attention to its origins. Uncovering its roots in tropical fieldwork and the southward expansion of U.S. empire at the turn of the twentieth century, American Tropics details how ecologists took advantage of growing U.S. landholdings in the circum-Caribbean by establishing permanent field stations for long-term, basic tropical research. From these outposts of U.S. science, a growing community of American “tropical biologists” developed both the key scientific concepts and the values embedded in the modern discourse of biodiversity.

Considering U.S. biological fieldwork from the era of the Spanish-American War through the anticolonial movements of the 1960s and 1970s, this study combines the history of science, environmental history, and the history of U.S.–Caribbean and Latin American relations. In doing so, this book sheds new light on the origins of contemporary scientific and environmentalist thought and brings to the forefront a surprisingly neglected history of twentieth-century U.S. science and empire.

Research for this project was completed at the following institutions:

Second Book: Marston Bates
This second book project examines the changing role of science and environment in US relations with the Global South through the life of Marston Bates, from his early field work for the Rockefeller Foundation and United Fruit Company to his popular science and nature writing of the 1950s and 1960s.



Plants and their Collectors:  A  Mapping Tool for the JSTOR Plants Database and the History of Botany
Cooperating with Frederick Gibbs of the George Mason University Center for History and New Media, Hanni Jalil and Gabriela Soto Laveaga of the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Gregg Mitman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I helped to design an interactive webtool to map historical plant type specimen collections from the JSTOR Plant Science database. I used the tool to interpret nineteenth- and twentieth-century botanical collections throughout the Caribbean region. We advised JSTOR on ways to make the Plant Science database more accessible for researchers in the humanities. This project was presented at the 4th Global Plants Initiative Meeting, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama City, Panama, January 10-14, 2011.