Professor, explorer Iain McCalman to speak on the Great Barrier Reef

Thursday, February 04, 2016

LAWRENCE—Iain McCalman, University of Sydney Professor of History, will take audiences on a new adventure into the Great Barrier Reef to reveal how our shifting perceptions of the natural world have shaped this extraordinary seascape. 

McCalman's talk will take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, in The Commons, Spooner Hall, as part of the Hall Center for the Humanities' 2015-2016 Humanities Lecture Series. The event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will occur after the lecture.

Stretching 1,400 miles along the Australian coast and visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is home to 3,000 individual reefs, more than 900 islands and thousands of marine species, and has alternately been viewed as a deadly maze, an economic bounty, a scientific frontier and a precarious World Heritage site. "The Great Barrier Reef: How Human Stories Matter" highlights our profound desire to conquer, understand, embrace and ultimately save the world's most complex ocean ecosystem.

McCalman will also participate in an informal conversation session the next day. “Back to the Future: Teddy Roosevelt’s Anthropocene” will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, in the Hall Center Conference Hall.

In July 1909, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on an 11-month, post-presidential shooting safari that doubled as a scientific expedition to provide the Smithsonian Museum in Washington with complete samples of East Africa’s rich wildlife. McCalman contends that Roosevelt’s famous African safari proved in fact to be a harbinger and agent of transformative social and environmental forces that he both regretted and extolled. Despite his lifelong disgust at "game butchers" and "trophy hunters," his own safari behavior savored uncomfortably of both. His "science safari" became the catalyst for a new type of commercialized safari industry that would ultimately threaten the biodiversity of the wildlife that he celebrated in newspaper articles and his best-selling book, "African Game Trails."

Audience members are invited to pose questions to McCalman and advance topics that may not have been touched upon in the previous night’s session.

McCalman is a highly respected and award-winning professor of history and the humanities at the University of Sydney. He has published numerous books and journal articles. Beyond his research, he has been an historical consultant and narrator for the BBC, ABC and other TV and film documentaries. 

His interest areas are the history of western environmental and cultural crises; scientific voyaging, ethnography and environmentalism. He is currently the co-director at the Sydney Environment Institute.

Founded in 1947, the Humanities Lecture Series is the oldest continuing series at KU. More than 150 eminent scholars from around the world have participated in the program, including author Salman Rushdie, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Recent speakers have included Junot Diaz, Jeffrey Toobin, and Sarah Vowell. Shortly after the program’s inception, a lecture by one outstanding KU faculty member was added to the schedule. For information on the series, visit the Hall Center website.

Photo: View from space of the Great Barrier Reef, courtesy NASA.