Ornithology at the margins: The social history of a field science in Sri Lanka


ACLS Fellowship Program




As a science, ornithology is notable in depending on amateurs (birdwatchers) for its development. This project argues that the science is shaped as much by the social backgrounds, cultural beliefs and rivalries of these amateurs as by scientific considerations. It examines these issues in the context of Sri Lanka, where ornithology's development was driven as much by the adoption of birding by new social classes with their own values as it was by new forms of technology and advances in scientific ideas and methods. Established by nineteenth century British colonialists, bird study became the pastime of an anglicized elite after independence, but has since been embraced by a broader spectrum of society. The project examines how a science originating in a western epistemology enters into and establishes itself in an alien context, and is shaped by the values, cultural beliefs and rivalries of its practitioners—amateur as well as professional.