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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘The Social Transformation of Ornithology in Sri Lanka from colonial times to the Present’, 5th February, 2015 .


‘The Social Transformation of Ornithology in Sri Lanka from colonial times to the Present’


Prof. Arjun Guneratne,
Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA.


This talk examines the shift in the techniques of ornithology from a field science based on collecting specimens, in which the chief tools were rifles, shotguns and other kinds of collecting equipment and modern birdwatching, which relies on fieldguides and optical equipment. While this shift has been noted by many and generally attributed to the shift in sensibilities and the development of a conservationist ethic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that was less tolerant of broad-scale collecting of specimens, there has been no detailed study of the particular social and political forces that impacted this transformation in particular contexts. The speaker examines this shift in ornithological techniques in its Sri Lankan context and relates it to the rise of a native Sri Lankan elite that took to birdwatching during the 20th century but which did not share the values and interests of the British expatriates who had established ornithology in Sri Lanka. Because ornithology is a science that, to a far greater extent than other sciences is dependent on the contributions of amateurs, the speaker argues that the cultural and social dispositions of the wider society in which it is embedded must shape the way it is practiced and account for its transformation.


Prof. Arjun Guneratne is Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College in the USA. He is interested in environmental issues and the history of biological science, and is currently writing a book on the social history of ornithology in Sri Lanka. His earlier research has been on issues of ethnicity and state formation in Nepal.

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