The Organization for Tropical Studies and the Evolution of Tropical Ecology

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Jonathan Hagood, Hope College

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This project consists of an examination of the reasons that the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) in its current form has proven both necessary and advantageous to those who have made use of it. The project focused on two major areas. It began by investigating the origins of modern ecology, and to a lesser extent, biology prior to the establishment of tropical studies as a true discipline as a means of examining the growth of field culture in the scientific community. Without that perspective, the sudden emergence of both OTS and its contemporaries would lack much of its impact. The second section of the project was devoted to OTS itself as a representative for the general feeling in American scientific circles of the 1950s-1970s, when tropical studies truly came into being as a distinct disciplinary subcategory, and a useful means of demonstrating the motives of many of the first tropical scientists. OTS, both as an organization and a measure of feeling in the scientific community, was very much a product of its time. Due to limitations of access, interest, and knowledge, research undertaken in the first years of OTS would not have been possible in the decades prior. Similarly, a great number of the first participants found themselves drawn to the program through their experiences during World War II and the decade prior, generating much of the impetus for the founding of such a program. Although the desire for discovery that undoubtedly fueled many of OTS’s first members holds true among scientists of all eras, the 1950s provided the only feasible era for the Organization’s founding through its unique combination of growing momentum in the requisite fields and the changing realities of a globalizing society.

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