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Season 2, Episode 7 · 3 years ago

Episode 208 - De-Extinction

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Here you are on a bus heading southeast out of Rochester, New York. It's a rainy Sunday morning in February and there's a major winter storm rolling in. Good evening. I'm Selina Lewis what could be a dangerous windstorm is fast approaching Rochester. Kaala green is live with more on how to prepare. Kayla. Yes, Selina, were about twelve hours away from the damaging windstorm. The high wind warnings go into effect at seven a m tomorrow and officials are expecting gusts up to seventy miles per hour. But you and your fellow travelers, the production team for this season of here you are, are determined to complete the trip before the weather turns severe. Your destination a small village in Wyoming county where the nineteen century United States still resides. When you arrive, you step off the bus into another world. For one thing, it's sunny and warm here, no hint of a blizzard at all. But then you see the magnificent red brick building that looks like a cross between a church, an armory and a regal estate. Out Front assign reads village hall. You step inside into another time and they're in front of you waiting is Bill Neil. So this is the museum in the magnificent hall. You hear bill talk about the creation of the building, how it was the gift of Lydia Avery Coolie Ward, who one summerd in the town and wanted to leave its residence with a gift. She was originally from New York State. They were wealthy...

...farmers and they had a place down on the finger lakes, but her first husband was from Chicago and he developed the conveyor belt that went around corner. So there was a lot of money involved. I guess she had foresight and realize that people in the community couldn't do what she could do. So she built that building to bring people like Frederick Douglas, is Susan B Anthony and Teddy Roosevelt came as president. The building itself is a product of the one thousand eight hundred and ninety three world's fair, the fabled Columbian Exposition, and on its Executive Board Sat Lydia Avery to serve her adopted second city. It was the same world's fair where Frederick Jackson Turner publicized his Frontier Thesis. Were white visitors peered into live to plays of native Americans, like the Panab Scot Indians, and indigenous peoples from all over the world, where naturalists displayed mythical creatures like a giant octopus and wooly mammoth, where Carl and Delia Aqlee showcase their best to date specimens, and where the field museum would receive its initial charter and then purchase the first animals for its collection, including works by the AKLEYS. For contemporaries, the Columbian Exposition introduced a new, matured, powerful United States to the world, a transformation, and also seemed to codify a belief amongst many powerful whites that the United States was losing its wildness or its natural heritage, which included Buffalo, deer and bears, as well as the sue Apache and Cheyenne. All were in danger of going extinct, yet not at the hands of people, they believed, but from the inkowait forces of modernity. Lydia every ward also brought the Columbian Exposition to our summer hometown, using Chicago's capital artifacts and architects to create the village hall. The Chicago firm...

Ponds and ponds designed the building. Pins and ponds was one of the premier architectural firms in Chicago. The columns and the of the state age were gifts from the king of Siam when she was on the one thousand eight hundred and ninety three world's fair board in Chicago, and a series of watercolors to picking the Chicago fairgrounds of the socalled white city welcome visitors just past the entrance doors. The spirit of the world's fair also lies upstairs. Following our hosts, we make our way up to the second floor, past floral pattern wall paper and wooden cabinets filled with native American artifacts, and then enter the attraction we've come to see, the Natural History Museum. Through the doors we enter a small, multi sided room lined with glass and wood cabinets, each displaying a family of the animal kingdom. Rare tropical birds like to Canson, finches, blowfish, sharks, turtle shells, fossils, a wild boar, a Moose and myriad geodes and rare rocks sit on display. Each of these creatures is long since dead, frozen and fixed by arsenic and molded clay administered a century ago. All airstwhile artifacts of Henry Augustus Ward, the founder of words museum, of science in Rochester, New York, the man who was Carl Aqley's taxidermy teacher and employer and, in his later life, the second husband of Lydia Avery Ward. Most of what remains of his life's work now sits in this tiny, under appreciated room in rural western New York, a far cry from the monumental granite steps of the field museum or the American Museum of Natural History. And yet the Village Hall Museum shares the Same Dna of these wealthy institutions. It is a product of the eighteen ninety three world's fair, the...

...socalled closing of the frontier and the sudden rise of conservation as explicitly a movement to halt the disappearance of the natural world, to stop extinction. As if to drive home this message, there in the remnants of words Natural History Museum, perched on a shelf, is a bust of the French naturalist, paleontologist and teacher Jeoge Cuvier, who's also known as the first theorist of extinction. It was cuvier who, in the late eighteen century, studied skeletons of wooly mammis and macedons and wondered, quote, what has become of these two enormous animals, of which one no longer finds any living traces. In remarks on species of elephants, both living and fossil, from one thousand seven hundred and ninety six, he claimed these fossil skeletons, quote, prove the existence of a world previous two hours, destroyed by some kind of catastrophe. Cuvier did not know it at the time, but he was describing the last great mass extinction found in the geological record, the so called die off of the megafauna around twelve thou to thirteen thou years ago. The bust of Cuvier, then, provides the final clue for why the collection exists in the first place. Henry Ward, like Carl Akley, Lydia, Avery Ward, Teddy Roosevelt Osa and Martin Johnson, and the other characters we met along the way this season, we're all convinced to the fact that a new extinction was already unfolding. In response, they worked to collect and preserve the natural world in the hopes that extinction could be slowed, if not stopped. By the turn of the century, Ward students like Aqley and Hornaday, had elevated this craft into parts science, part art. Their dioramas would be so lifelike an immersive they believed they could rescue the natural world from death. In time, the modern taxidermists...

...would acquire a new name, the resurrectionists M so what happened to the taxidermists and their artistic science? Why do people so rarely associate conservation with this early movement? The answer, as with most things, is complicated. First, our views of animals have changed, as we've heard the season. The rise of documentary nature films like the Johnson's works showed that people could experience natural transcendence on film without having to kill the animals. Second, modern environmentalism started to promote the cute and cuddly aspects of charismatic megafauna. In the latter half of the twentieth century, borrowing on new work in conservation, biology and Ecology, states and government signed laws and international agreements that promoted the protection of particular animals. Think of the panda diplomacy between China and Western countries during the Cold War. On behalf of the people of the United States, I am pleased to be here and accept the precious gift of the pandas, and also these other momenteaus from the People's Republic of China, the passage of the endangered species act and the remarkable recovery of American icons like the Bald Eagle or gray wolf. The Endangered Species Act of nineteen seventy three is the Magna Carta of the environmental movement because at the highest level now of federal law and tested again again in the courts, is the preservation of wild life while and by implication, also the larger preservation of the environment. What better example of the pervasive success of this kind of environmentalism than the nineteen eighty six film star trek four, in which Captain Kirk and the crew of the enterprise travel back in time to the...

...twenty century to save the soon to be extinct humpback whale. Admiral, I have a signal closing in on the whales bearing three, two eight degrees. Let's see what kind of ship is that? It's a whaling ship, Doctor. Are we too later, as conservation education shifted to the broader world of schools, television and film over the last fifty years, the Dioramas they replaced became old fashioned, if not downright barbaric. In Nineteen Ninety Nine, Field Museum director Willard Boyd wrote that the Di Ramas, quote, are often viewed by today's visitors as a dead zoo located in a dark tunnel, perhaps on. Surprisingly, the museum's last taxidermist, Paul Rymer, retired in two thousand and sixteen. Since nineteen ninety several directors of the Smithsony Museum of natural history have locked horns with curators and the public over plans to, quote, update the old fashioned Dioramas, euphemism for mothballing a greater and greater number of on display specimens. Now Museum directors talk about using, quote, augmented reality and D immersive technology to instruct the next generation on the importance of conservation. Both taxidermy and taxidermists, it seems, have joined the ranks of endangered species. But has the next generation of conservationists succeeded where the resurrectionists failed? If we focus on the charismatic fauna like the Bald Eagle, then yes, but unfortunately, doing so we miss the forest for the trees because, despite our best efforts, extinction has only accelerated since in s in the rise of modern environmentalism. While the global populations set to top non billion by mid century, non human life is dying at rights, not saying in sixty million years. Scientists...

...to calling at the sixth great extinction, a catastrophic drow up in the number of the world's plant and animal species. And yet, where the Cold War generation of conservationists failed, others believe another method can succeed. Rather than kill and preserve endangered animals. However, this new tactic would make science fiction a reality and reanimate the extinct through DNA harvesting and editing, a technique they call the extinction. What if extinction didn't have to be a thing? What if we could bring species back at will? To do that, we'd need dn a and egg cell and a berthing mom. Boosters of de Extinction, however, seem completely unaware that their work is not so new. They are merely continuing the tradition of the resurrectionists who came before them. After all, the first animal under consideration for d extinction is the wooly mammoth, the pacaderm that inspired George Cuvier and his theory back in Wyoming County, New York, in the museum that holds the last of words collection, there's an especially beautiful cabinet case filled with dozens of bird eggs, some as large as a grapefruit, others as small as a cherry tomato. The case that those eggs are in there, where there's large glass areas on top with drawers underneath. There are white eggs and blue speckled eggs, yellow eggs and purple eggs. Some have black and gray spots that give the shells the appearance of Italian marble. Others have loopy splashes of black lines, like someone broke the tip of a fountain pen and spilled the contents on a blank piece of paper. These eggs are rare, not just for their beauty but because they predate the chemical revolution that poisoned and killed millions of birds in the S and S S, including the...

American Bald Eagle. All of those export of fan it will pre DDT the shells are a little thicker. There's probably, you know, the fact that the DNA is there could be studied. In other words, their genetic code might contain the key to rebuilding the natural world we have lost. As we continue to GRAPP with the meaning of our accelerating climate catastrophe. In the profound loss that animal extinction continues to create, we would do well to consider our long and largely failed history of conservation. Someday, maybe in fifty years, maybe in one hundred, a geneticis pursuing de extinction may come to Wyoming in search of the rarest of Avian DNA, he she. They may find this little dusty room, the last wards museum, his life's work and the bird eggs. Before blindly harvesting what genetic material remains, the geneticist may pause, with a bust of cuvier looking on. They may consider again the world and anxieties that made ward in his museum, the ways in which ideas of race, gender and the Empire Shaped Ward and his successors views of nature, and then how the geneticist own views and interventions in nature are also just as subjective, partial and potentially falling. And yet wards bird eggs and AQ leas diramas may remain the last traces of the natural world before global warming drowned the coasts, acidify the oceans and destroyed most of the planet and its creatures, with no wild animals left to film or watch at the zoo. Humans may again return to the collections of the resurrectionists to catch an imperfect glimpse of the natural...

...world that once was, to feel, however briefly, a transcendent connection to the once living animal kingdom, or to revive and reanimate dormant DNA to begin rewilding the planet. Immune this episode concludes the Second Season of here you are, a podcast show made by students at the University of Rochester. I'm Tom Fleischmann and together with my colleague Steve Restner, who engineered this episode, we created this podcast series in two thousand and eighteen to engage the public on topics of historical and environmental significance, while also teaching students about the medium of podcasting. Over the past year we've had tremendous support from many people. First, thank you to our professional guests who skyped into our class or came to Rochester to share their expertise in podcasting and radio production, Lillian Cunningham, Max Lensky, Jim Briggs, rob buyers and Peter Glinsky. Thank you to Bill Neil and Doug Norton for giving us a memorable tour of Wyoming, New York's Village Hall the building that Lydia Avery made and the fantastic wars collection. Janelle Hart created our logo for this season. Thank you for your help and shaping the public face of our show, and a huge thank you to Jackie Rizzo, Christy Pakish and Sarah Murphy in the history department for their help and keeping us on budget and in order. Here you are, as made possible by a teaching innovation grant from the University of Rochester's Center for excellence in teaching and learning. Thank you to Stewart Jordan for your guidance and support. And finally, the show would not have been possible without all the hard work of the students who made it. Thank you for your patience as we ironed out the wrinkles and the course and for taking this assignment seriously and making it your own. So thank you to Alexis, Bren Celia, chloe, Dasha, David, Elizabeth, Ewen, Harrison, James, Jessica, Joshua, Liam, Lewis,...

Max Maya, Rick, Rose, Sam and Zoe. This has been here. You are season two, nature reconstructed. Thank you for listening.

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