Wild by Design | A Discussion with Laura J. Martin

This is an Archive of a Past Event

Join us for a conversation to celebrate SHC fellow (2020-21) Laura J. Martin's new book, Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration, as part of our Inside the Center series.


Today environmental restoration is a global pursuit. Governments, nonprofits, and other institutions spend billions of dollars each year to remove invasive species, build wetlands, and reintroduce species driven from their habitats. But restoration has not always been so intensively practiced. It began as the pastime of a few wildflower enthusiasts and the first practitioners of the new scientific discipline of ecology.

Restorationists grapple with the deepest puzzles of human care for life on earth: How to intervene in nature for nature’s own sake? Is it possible to design nature without destroying wildness? Wild by Design shows how amateur and professional ecologists, interest groups, and government agencies coalesced around a mode of environmental management that sought to respect the world-making, and even the decision-making, of other species. At the same time, restoration science reshaped material environments in ways that transformed what we understand the wild to be.

In Wild by Design, restoration’s past provides vital knowledge for climate change policy. But Martin also offers something more―a meditation on what it means to be wild and a call for ecological restoration that is socially just.

The respondent for this event will be Traci Brynne Voyles.


Photograph of a pile of bison skulls, with one man perched on top and one man at the bottom
Bison skulls pilled at the Glueworks in Rougeville, Michigan, c. 1892 | Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Related Reading

"Disturbance: How atomic doomsday experiments, fuelled by Cold War fears, shaped then sook ecologists' faith in self-healing nature" (2023) (Aeon)

"Designing Autonomy: Opportunities for New Wildness in the Anthropocene" (2017) (Trends in Ecology & Evolution 32.3)

"The Yale Geochronometric Laboratory and the Rewriting of Global Environmental History" (2023) (Journal of the History of Biology 56)

About the Author and Respondent

Laura J. Martin

Laura J. Martin (2020-21 SHC Fellow) is a historian and ecologist who studies how people shape the habitats of other species. She is the author of Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration and articles in venues including Environmental History, Science, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She is an environmental studies professor at Williams College and a former fellow of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, the Stanford Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Science Foundation. She is currently working on a global history of hormonal herbicides.


Traci Voyles

Dr. Traci Brynne Voyles is a Professor and Department Head of History at North Carolina State University (NCSU). She is the author of two books. The Settler Sea: California’s Salton Sea and the Consequences of Colonialism (Many Wests book series, University of Nebraska Press, 2021), which won the prestigious Caughey Prize for best work on the American West, and Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

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