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Sara Pritchard – Polluted Nightscapes: “Natural Night-Sky Brightness,” Skyglow, and the U.S. National Park Service

January 25, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

513 Fayerweather Hall

Speaker: Sara Pritchard, Associate Professor of History, Cornell University

Since the late nineteenth century, light pollution has increased dramatically throughout most of the urban, industrial world. The term actually encompasses several forms of excessive, misdirected, and/or disruptive artificial light at night, including glare, light trespass, light clutter, and skyglow. This issue has also received growing attention from scientists in several distinct disciplines, policy-makers, and “dark-sky” conservation groups since the 1970s and especially since the 1990s. This talk examines how the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and specifically its “Natural Sounds and Night Skies” Division came to care about nighttime landscapes—or nightscapes. Drawing on ethnographic and published sources, I examine how the NPS has studied, measured, materialized, and visualized light pollution in and near American national parks over the past two decades. I argue that the way the NPS produces knowledge about artificial light at night both reflects and reproduces the idea(l) of wilderness. Despite challenges to wilderness in the environmental humanities, the development of alternative conservation strategies that seek to address both environment and livelihood, and the complexity of light pollution as a phenomenon, relatively new concerns about artificial light at night nonetheless replicate older conservation and environmentalist rhetoric.

This event is free and open to the public.
This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.

Sponsoring Organizations:
New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Columbia University in the City of New York
City University of New York
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Medicine


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