In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in uncovering the previously hidden roles of members of underrepresented groups in a variety of scientific disciplines. As these stories come to light, in fields such as astronomy and mathematics, we are reminded of the subjective nature of how history is recorded and of the importance of highlighting the diverse voices that have contributed to societal advancement.
In the realms of conservation and natural history, countless members of underrepresented groups have acted and continue to serve as change agents, contributing to the fields through their work as scientists and in other roles. Yet their stories are largely unknown. Our Untold Stories initiative raises awareness of these previously unknown change makers in conservation and museum-based natural sciences in both a historical and contemporary context. We believe that bringing these voices to the foreground will be inspirational to current and future generations.
Members of the New York-based Women in Natural Sciences Chapter of the Association for Women in Science initiated this project with the goal of celebrating the lives and legacies of scientists as well as individuals in a variety of other roles necessary to the advancement of conservation and natural history; this includes artists, philanthropists, illustrators, and assistants. Our aim is to explore not only the significance of these individuals’ contributions, but also to place their work in the social and political contexts of their time. Through this project, we explore the challenges faced individuals faced as members of an underrepresented group.
On the historical side, this project investigates the role of select individuals in the realm of conservation and natural history starting in the late 1800s. Through extensive biographical explorations highlight aspects such as the individual’s passion for the subject at hand, as well as supportive and/or oppositional influences to their work. We explore the history of science broadly to show how these stories fit into the larger fabric of the field. For the contemporary portion of this work, we highlight the voices and stories of living scientists from underrepresented groups. We explore their personal and professional lives, including discussion of their mentors, inspirations, and the varied paths that each took.
A note on Untold: while many of these stories are completely untold, some are better characterized as seldom told— stories that are known, but not nearly as well as they should be.
The Untold Stories project originated from meetings and discussions of the Women in Natural Sciences Chapter of the Association for Women in Science at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The core team is led by Dr. Eleanor Sterling (Jaffe Chief Conservation Scientist) and includes a team of researchers, museum volunteers, and interns. The project continues to grow with collaborators from institutions worldwide including: the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., the New York Botanical Garden, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Australian Museum in Sydney. In the future, we welcome working with additional museums, organizations, and professional and historical societies, who may have interest and relevant resources.