Thesis ID: CBB585978342

Listening at the Lab: Bird Watchers and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (2016)


Professionalization within the sciences has often been presented as a process of separation between scientists and the public. Implicit within this conception of professionalization is a hierarchical conception of knowledge which is diffused from the laboratory to the public. However, the history of ornithology reveals very different dynamics which requires historians to challenge this notion of professionalization. From its origins as a science oriented toward the collection of specimens for the purposes of taxonomy, ornithologists have formed a community of practice with amateurs. Amateur bird watching fostered a new set of skills for bird identification at a time when professional ornithologists became reliant upon such skills in order to study birds in the field. A study of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology reveals the extent to which professional ornithologists were embedded within the community of bird watchers and depended upon them for the very survival of the institution. The interaction between professional ornithologists and a wider culture of bird watchers as seen through the recording activity of the CLO is inadequately explained by models the isolate “science” and the “public” and assume a one-way flow of scientific knowledge. The example of sound recording shows how amateurs were important figures in scientific networks which were maintained by personal relationships. The rise of citizen science at the CLO in the late 1980s demonstrates its reliance upon the participation of large numbers of amateur bird watchers to produce data published in scientific literature. Rather than a diffusionist model of professionalization, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology points to a model of professionalization through popularization built upon a common culture of bird watching.

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Authors & Contributors
Mitman, Gregg A.
Morris, Pat A.
Dean, W. R. J.
Milton, S. J.
Sandwith, M.
Carlson, Douglas
Archives of Natural History
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Scientia Canadensis: Journal of the History of Canadian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Environment and History
Social Studies of Science
American Historical Review
University of Texas Press
Harvard University Press
University of Minnesota Press
Oxford University Press
University of Wisconsin at Madison
The College of William and Mary
Natural history
Collectors and collecting
Field work
Peterson, Roger Tory
Brooks, Allan Cyril
Pennant, Thomas
Roberts, Thomas Sadler
Darwin, Charles Robert
Lack, David Lambert
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
21st century
18th century
20th century, late
United States
Great Britain
Northern Ireland
British Trust for Ornithology
Natural History Museum (London, England)
Cornell Library of Natural Sounds
Cornell University
Cornell University, Laboratory of Ornithology

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