Race, Extinction, and Conservation in the New World
Early modern writers had long noted the apparent decimation of some indigenous peoples. However, such discussions took on a new and urgent form in the nineteenth century as a new scientific understanding of extinction as an endemic natural process was established. Many scholars have explored the notion of dying races in histories of colonial contact, modern land rights, or genocide; yet most have overlooked the new epistemological status of extinction as a mechanism for explaining natural change. This chapter explores how this scientific shift became combined with notions of wilderness in the American context to rationalize policies of Indian dispossession, forced removal from their traditional homelands, and the establishment of the world's first national parks. In doing so, it highlights fruitful directions for future histories of heritage, endangerment, and conservation.
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