Etienne Samuel Benson

Director (Since 2022)

Prof. Dr.

My research focuses on the history of relationships between humans and other forms of life, especially nonhuman animals, as they were reshaped by science and technology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

In the book Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), I used the figure of the wildlife radio-collar to examine the tension between two late-twentieth-century American obsessions: technology and wildness. I argued that technologies of tracking -- of which radio-tracking is only one example, albeit an important one -- have helped to refashion wildlife as something simultaneously "wild" and "managed". 

My current work focuses on two areas. The first concerns the impact of ethical concerns and legal regulations on the production of knowledge about endangered species since the 1960s. In this project, I am analyzing the politicized discourses of regulatory burden and scientific freedom while also constructing a database of regulatory actions that will provide a comprehensive view of the development of endangered species research over time. 

My second current area of interest concerns the multispecies character of urban space, and particularly the history of "animate infrastructures": tangible and non-tangible systems through which interactions among living things take place. With an eye toward current challenges in building sustainable cities, this project aims to recover past urban landscapes as habitats for and products of the interaction between many different forms of life. 

I received my PhD in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society from MIT in 2008. Before joining the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in 2010, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Center for the Environment and Department of the History of Science. 


No current projects were found for this scholar.

Databases and Data Communities in Animal Ecology


The Regulatory Archive: Science, Law, and Ethics in Biodiversity Conservation


Selected Publications

Benson, Etienne (2017). “A Centrifuge of Calculation: Managing Data and Enthusiasm in Early Twentieth-Century Bird Banding .” Osiris 32 (1): 286–306.

Read More

Benson, Etienne (2016). “Trackable life : data, sequence, and organism in movement ecology.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. Part C, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 57: 137–147.…

Read More

Benson, Etienne (2016). “Naming the ethological subject.” Science in Context 29 (1): 107–128.

Read More

Benson, Etienne (2015). “Endangered birds and epistemic concerns : the California condor .” In Endangerment, biodiversity and culture, ed. F. Vidal and N. Dias, 175–194. London: Routledge.

Read More

News & Press

Etienne Benson to join the MPIWG as director in summer 2022


MPIWG researchers and alumni publish Isis Issue focused on the Anthropocene