Biocreativity on the Road: Natural History at ESA 2011

Natural Histories Project on display at the Natural History Section booth at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX.

Photos from the NaturalHistoriesProject.org are on display at the Natural History Section booth at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX. Photo by H. Gillespie

More biocreativity has been spotted at the Ecological Society of America meeting going on right now in Austin, TX. The Natural History Section (booth #617) is displaying some of the beautiful portraits and inspiring (but often haunting) words that make up the Natural Histories Project. This project is one of the products of a series of recent workshops sponsored by the Natural History Initiative, which created dialogues between diverse natural historians about the “re-imaging” and future of the field of natural history in the modern world. Photos and audio by documentary team Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele are simple, honest and captivating. The interviews and images reveal the passion and love the interviewees have for natural history, but also remind us of the urgency of revitalizing this field so that it “remains relevant in the 21st century”.

“Natural History – in the arts, humanities and sciences – must be revitalized and re-defined if it is to remain relevant in the 21st century.”  -NH Initiative

What I love about this project is that it is both a true celebration of natural history  - which is inspiring in itself – but it is also something that can speak to very diverse audiences. It shows the faces of natural history – young and old, male and female, diverse backgrounds. It shows that anyone can be a natural historian, and that everyone can find a reason to care about this field, whether or not it is part of their profession. “What was really fun [about the Natural History Initiative workshops],” says Terry Wheeler of the Natural History Network, “was sitting down with a poet, a painter and a scientist to get their perspectives [on natural history]. There were some really creative ideas.” While we were exchanging thoughts on biocreativity, Terry also showed be through the great books on natural history up for silent auction at the booth. I’m hoping to win Michael Canfield’s beautiful new book, Field Notes on Science and Nature, especially if it helps support the Natural Histories Project and other efforts of Natural History Network.

As I mentioned on my blog last week, tomorrow (Wednesday) is the day to catch the symposium A Natural History Initiative for Ecology, Stewardship and Sustainability (SYMP 13, Wed 8/10 1:30-5pm, Ballroom E Austin Convention Center) and the ESA Natural History Section Mixer (Wed 8/10 6:30-8pm, Radisson Hotel Old Pecan Street). I, for one, forsee many great things (including even more biocreativity) emerging from this section in the future, to the great benefit of the craft that inspired many of us to enter the field of ecology in the first place – natural history.


The Natural Histories Project from Benjamin Drummond / Sara Steele on Vimeo.

UPDATE: I’m so glad I attended the Natural History Section Symposium at ESA 2011 because I was able to see Terry’s interview with Doug Levy on the NaturalHistoriesProject.org site. I simply love Terry’s quote, “…the biggest surprise I’ve had [at the workshop] is the extent to which art permeates so many of the discussions and sessions this week, and just how closely tied they are in a lot of our meetings. I think, to a certain extent, that the level to which art runs through so much of natural history makes me feel better about not necessarily being able to come up with a definition.” To listen to more interviews with an Art & Literature theme visit http://histories.naturalhistorynetwork.org/theme/art