Working Naturalist: Episodes in the Life of Marston Bates, Life Scientist for Hire

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
1:00 p.m.–1:45 p.m. EDT (UTC -4)

As a biologist, Marston Bates (1906–1974) was both exceptional and utterly ordinary. Today he is best known—although mostly forgotten—as a writer of popular natural history books. Before he became an academic and public figure by the middle of the century, however, Bates worked as an applied entomologist. During the 1920s through the 1940s, he was employed by the United Fruit Company and the Rockefeller Foundation, studying agricultural pests, disease ecology, and population. Working for a variety of institutions also enabled him to work with a wide range of organisms: from butterflies and fruit flies, to mosquitos and people. While cutting against trends toward specialization, Bates’s career reveals the broader fabric of the 20th-century life sciences. This talk will draw on Bates’s life to explore the intersection of biology, biography, and the nature of scientific work.


About the Speaker

Megan Raby is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science, which examines the relationship between field ecology, the expansion of U.S. hegemony in the circum-Caribbean during the 20th century, and the emergence of the modern concept of biodiversity. Her work has appeared in the journals Isis, Environmental History, and History of Science.

About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season focuses on the human lives behind biological research.