As Dr. Joseph Drew Lanham writes in his beautiful and deeply moving memoir, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, from his earliest days growing up in the piedmont forests and fields of Edgefield, South Carolina, he dreamed of flight. This fascination with the aerial journeys of the blue jays that stole his grandmother’s pecans and the crows that invaded his father’s cornfield sparked Dr. Lanham’s lifelong dedication to studying birds and to exploring what it means to be a “rare bird” himself: a Black man in a field that is overwhelmingly white and an ecologist finding freedom through wildness on land where his ancestors were enslaved. In addition to advancing scientific understanding of wild animals, Dr. Lanham has written extensively about the deep and often overlooked connections between how we treat nature and how we treat our fellow humans. In this episode, we speak with Dr. Lanham about how bird lives and Black lives intertwine in the story of the Carolina Parakeet, the language-defying joy of watching swallow-tailed kites, and why Emily Dickinson was right in declaring that “hope is the thing with feathers.”
In the third installment of Yale Journal of Biology & Medicine’s series on ecology and evolution, YJBM podcast hosts Neal Ravindra and Kartiga Selvaganesan interview Richard Prum. Professor Prum is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, a faculty member in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and affiliated with Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is also the author of the recent book, The Evolution of Beauty, which was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer prize. We discuss some of the concepts in that book and topics in his current research program during the episode.