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Hell and Eden at World’s End: Early Twentieth Century Settler Life on the Galápagos Islands

February 5, 2018 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

The “Baronessa,” a Viennese colonist, poses against a stone wall in a tattered costume for a film shot during the 1933 Hancock-Pacific expedition.
Image Caption: The “Baronessa,” a Viennese colonist, poses for a film shot during the 1933 Hancock-Pacific expedition. She later disappeared, presumed murdered along with one of her lovers in what remains an island mystery. Image credit: John Woram/galapagos.to.Monday Seminar:

Monday Seminar:

Elizabeth Hennessy

Resident Fellow (2017-2018)

History, UW-Madison; Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies


The Galápagos Islands are best known today as a natural laboratory of evolution where biologists and tourists alike can venture to see nature as Charles Darwin himself did nearly two centuries ago. For much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, these Pacific islands at the “world’s end” were the site of quite different understandings of place. Dozens of U.S. and European expatriates went to the Galápagos seeking an island Eden where they fancied themselves Robinson Crusoes escaping modern life. Yet for their Ecuadorian contemporaries, the islands were not an escape, but a prison: a place of penal colonies and forced plantation labor. This talk examines the collision of these different geographical imaginations and how they both spurred conservationist concern and continue to disrupt ideals of preserving the islands as a timeless natural laboratory.


Elizabeth Hennessy is Assistant Professor of World Environmental History in the History Department and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison. She is part of the Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) and serves as the faculty advisor for CHE’s graduate-student-run digital magazine, Edge Effects. She is also affiliated with the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies program (LACIS) and the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies. Trained as a geographer, she works at the intersection of political ecology, science and technologies studies, animal studies, and environmental history. Hennessy was formerly a fellow of the SSRC, ACLS, and Rachel Carson Center at LMU in Munich, Germany. Her first book will be published with Yale University Press in 2019.


February 5, 2018
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States