Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Dagmar Herzog

Subject Categories

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | United States History


Environmental history, field stations, Bronx Zoo, British Guiana, U.S. conservation policy, William Beebe


The Department of Tropical Research (the DTR) was created in 1916 by William Beebe, an ornithologist working for the New York Zoological Society, in British Guiana as a branch of the newly opened Bronx Zoo in New York. It was the first biological laboratory set up in the tropics connected to a large research institution in the United States. This paper looks at how these early field stations were tied to the economic desires of U.S. businessmen working in British Guiana during what Greg Grandin and other historians have called the “second conquest” of Latin America by U.S. industrialists. The onslaught of U.S. corporate entities operating in South America at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries in search of natural resources and economic control of the region coincides with the introduction of ecology and resource allocation in the form of state-sanctioned conservation in the United States. The New York Zoological Society was instrumental in how the United States’ first conservation laws were crafted, and many of the ideas Beebe and the DTR developed about tropical ecology and conservation in Latin America fed back into the U.S. in ways that influenced how people in the States began to conceptualize what environmental conservation entailed, and who had what rights to natural resources. The question at the core of Beebe’s work as a scientific innovator and popularizer is how his ideas about the preservation of nature existed alongside, and were entwined with, his facilitation of increasing U.S. industry dependent on natural resource use. Through the work produced at these field stations, Beebe and the DTR influenced what South American and Caribbean land was thought to be by U.S. citizens.

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