Oregon State University



Event Details

OSU Libraries Resident Scholar Lecture: Leah Aronowsky

Accounting for Ecosystems in a Post-DDT Age: The Case of the Microcosm

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Faced with mounting evidence of the pervasive environmental threat of DDT, the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s was forced to contend with a new kind of hazard: the slow-moving, insidious danger of a chemical’s persistence over time and space. DDT, a pesticide whose full range of deleterious effects had come to light only years after an environment’s exposure and in bodies far beyond these initial exposure sites, demanded a means of evaluating a chemical’s harm that extended beyond a single species or even a single environmental medium; it required a screening test that could reveal the relationship between a chemical and an entire ecosystem.

Drawing on archival research conducted in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center, this talk charts the rise and fall of one such screening test: the microcosm. Microcosms were simple, lab-based ecosystems designed to be complex enough to correspond to processes in the real world, but simple enough to serve as reproducible, standardized instruments. The microcosm ultimately failed as a viable screening test but, in so doing, I show, became entwined in ongoing efforts among systems ecologists to rethink longstanding assumptions about the fundamental nature of ecosystems. The talk stems from a broader ongoing research project on the history of the concept of steady-state stability in the American environmental sciences, focusing on how it took shape in the postwar era as a framework for re-theorizing the relationship between “life” and “the environment.”

Leah Aronowsky is a historian of the modern life and environmental sciences, technology, and the environment. She is currently completing her PhD in history of science at Harvard University. Her work has appeared most recently (or is slated to appear soon) in Environmental Humanities, Environmental History, and Endeavour. 


Valley Library (campus map)
Willamette East Seminar Room
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