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American TropicsThe Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science$
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Megan Raby

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469635606

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469635606.001.0001

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An American Tropical Laboratory

An American Tropical Laboratory

(p.21) Chapter One An American Tropical Laboratory
American Tropics

Megan Raby

University of North Carolina Press

During the lead-up to the Spanish-American War, U.S. botanists looked with envy at the progress of European scientists, who had access to tropical colonies. They pushed for the creation of their own “American tropical laboratory.” Chapter 1 traces the origins of the U.S. tropical laboratory movement; the resulting rental of the station at Cinchona, Jamaica; and the first decade of research there by members of the founding generation of U.S. ecologists. This history reveals their range of motivations for engaging in tropical research, from the 1890s through the outbreak of World War I and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. The study of tropical organisms—with their diversity of forms and adaptations so foreign to those familiar with temperate flora and fauna—seemed to offer a path to a truly general understanding of living things. At the same time, U.S. botanists saw tropical research as the key to a place on the international scientific stage. U.S. botanists did not wait for state­sponsored colonial science. Driven by a distinct set of intellectual, cultural, and professional concerns, they were ready to filibuster for science to acquire an outpost for research in the Caribbean.

Keywords:   botanical garden, botany, British empire, ecology, field station, imperialism, Jamaica, laboratory, Spanish-American War, United States empire

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