Species loss and the ecology of human-animal health: understanding and preventing extinction in the twentieth century and beyond


  • Dr Duncan Wilson

    University of Manchester

Project summary

In the 1940s, prominent British scientists drew on ecological work highlighting the interdependence between species to argue that animal extinction posed a grave threat to human health. These claims underpinned the work of new conservation organisations and, as the sense of environmental crisis grew during the 1960s, regularly appeared in popular sources.

This project analyses the emergence and influence of the view that extinction threatened human health, and scrutinises how the idea was grounded in the outlook and aims of particular individuals and groups. The research will connect the medical humanities with environmental history and animal studies, to chart how this view of extinction fostered questions about which species we should try and save, and how we should do it. Given the dire warnings about the rate of species loss today, this history is vital for critical reflection on the changing connections between human and animal health, and why we value some animals over others.