Elizabeth Hennessy

Position title: Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies

Email: elizabeth.hennessy@wisc.edu

Office: 4105 Mosse Humanities
Mailbox: 4029 Mosse Humanities

Elizabeth Hennessy


I am a geographer who works at the intersection of environmental history, political ecology, science and technology studies, and the history of science with a regional focus on Latin America. My first book, On the Backs of Tortoises: Darwin, the Galápagos, and the Fate of an Evolutionary Eden was published by Yale University Press in 2019 and a finalist for a 2020 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The book draws on ethnographic and archival research to trace a transnational history of the iconic Galápagos giant tortoises as animals at the center of tensions among evolutionary science, conservation, and tourism development in the archipelago.

Since 2021, I have been the Coordinator/PI for the Humanities Education for Anti-Racism Literacy in the Sciences and Medicine (HEAL) project, funded by the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative. HEAL seeks to provide models of transformative higher education by centering the educational experiences of Black, Native, Indigenous and other students of color to build more accurate narratives about histories of racism in the sciences and medicine, allowing us to better redress persistent underrepresentation and to develop educational tools for building a more equitable university and society. Through HEAL, I co-teach the “HEALing the Sciences” short course, an 8-hour training on histories of white supremacy in the sciences and what to do about them for STEM graduate students, faculty and staff.

I am currently developing a new project on the politics of scientific fieldwork.

Within the History Department, I am part of the History of Science, Medicine and Technology faculty. I am active in the Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History, and the Environment (CHE) and formerly served as faculty advisor for Edge Effects, a digital magazine run by CHE graduate students. I am also affiliate faculty with the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies program and the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies. I teach theories of space, race, and nature, animal history, the global environmental history of the “Anthropocene,” and Latin American environmental history.

I am not accepting new graduate students for Fall 2024.


Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
M.A., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
B.A., Miami University


Selected Publications

  • “Saving Species: The co-evolution of tortoise taxonomy and conservation in the Galápagos Islands,” Environmental History, April 2020.
  • The politics of a natural laboratory: Claiming territory and governing life in the Galápagos IslandsSocial Studies of Science, Vol. 48 (4) 2018: 483–506.
  • “Freezing Life in the Anthropocene,” in Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene, Robert Emmett, Marco Amerio and Gregg Mitman, editors, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.
  • “Mythologizing ‘Darwin’s Islands’” in D. Quiroga and A. M. Sevilla, editors, Darwinism and Conservation in the Galápagos Islands. New York: Springer, 2016, 65-90.
  • “The Molecular Turn in Conservation: The Genetics of Pristine Nature and the Rediscovery of an Extinct Species of Galápagos Giant Tortoise.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers Vol. 105 (2015) Issue 1, 87-104.
  • “Producing ‘Prehistoric’ Life: Conservation breeding and the remaking of wildlife genealogies.” Geoforum. Vol. 49 (October 2013): 71-80.
  • “Nature’s Eden? The Production and Effects of ‘Pristine’ Nature in the Galápagos Islands.” Island Studies Journal. Vol. 6, No. 2 (2011): 131-156. With Amy McCleary.

Advisor To

Selected Awards

  • Mellon Foundation Just Futures: Humanities Education for Anti-Racism Literacy in the Sciences and Medicine
  • Leopold-Hidy Award for Best Paper in Environmental History, Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History (“Saving Species”)
  • Vilas Associate, UW-Madison, 2019-2021
  • Fellow, UW-Madison Institute for Research in the Humanities, Spring 2018
  • Fellow, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU, Munich, Germany, Spring 2017
  • UW-Madison Center for the Humanities First Book Award, 2016
  • Dissertation Completion Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies/ Mellon Foundation, 2013-2014
  • International Dissertation Research Fellowship, Social Science Research Council, 2011-2012
  • Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, National Science Foundation, 2010-2012

History Courses

  • History 225 – Global Environmental History: How do we live in the Anthropocene? – Syllabus 2017 (pdf)
  • History of Science 350 – Histories of Racism and Colonialism and the Environmental Sciences, And How to Undo Them – Syllabus 2022 (pdf)
  • History / Environmental Studies 369 – Thinking Through History with Animals – Syllabus 2017 (pdf)
  • History / Environmental Studies 465 – Global Environmental History: How do we live in the Anthropocene? – Syllabus 2023 (pdf)
  • History 600 – Latin American Environmental History – Syllabus 2014 (pdf)
  • History 704 – What is world history? space, nature, history – Syllabus 2015 (pdf)
  • History 702 / Environmental Studies 900 – Historical Political Ecology
  • History 702 /Environmental Studies 900 / Geography 900 – The Politics of Land (with Gregg Mitman)