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Local Knowledge, Environmental Politics, and the Founding of Ecology in the United States: Stephen Forbes and "The Lake as a Microcosm" (1887)

Daniel W. Schneider
Isis
Vol. 91, No. 4 (Dec., 2000), pp. 681-705
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/236820
Page Count: 25
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Local Knowledge, Environmental Politics, and the Founding of Ecology in the United States: Stephen Forbes and "The Lake as a Microcosm" (1887)
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Abstract

Stephen Forbes's "The Lake as a Microcosm" is one of the founding documents of the science of ecology in the United States. By tracing the connections between scientists and local fishermen underlying the research on floodplain lakes presented in "The Lake as a Microcosm," this essay shows how the birth of ecology was tied to local knowledge and the local politics of environmental transformation. Forbes and the other scientists of the Illinois Natural History Survey relied on fishermen for manual labor, expertise in catching fish, and knowledge of the natural history of the fishes. As Forbes and his colleagues worked in close contact with fishermen, they also adopted many of their political concerns over the privatization of the floodplain and became politically active in supporting their interests. The close connection between scientists and local knowledge forced the ecologists to reframe the boundaries of ecology as objective or political, pure or applied, local or scientific.

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