On the Backs of Turtles: A Critical Geography of Evolution in the Galápagos Islands


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




The Galápagos Islands are a world-renown ‘natural laboratory of evolution’ and one of the best-preserved ecosystems on earth. Yet, even this remote archipelago is not immune from global environmental crises: in 2007, UNESCO put it on the list of World Heritage Sites In Danger because of booming tourism development. This dissertation focuses on the islands’ most iconic species, the giant tortoises, to trace the evolution of human relations with nature through three key historical moments: Darwin’s visit in 1835, the founding of the Galápagos National Park in 1959, and the UNESCO declaration. It returns to the ‘cradle of evolution’ to argue that even in this ‘pristine’ space, evolution can no longer be considered a purely natural process, but rather one thoroughly imbricated with social histories.