MIT alum writes an American history of the squirrel

January 11th, 2014

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Photo: Sebastian Wallroth, Wikimedia

Squirrels, it seems, didn’t just move to our cities. They were invited to live there.

And this invitation is an important historical observation for Etienne Benson PhD ’08 because of what it reveals about human-animal relationships. “By the early twentieth century, eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), once limited to rural areas, had become the most visible nondomesticated mammals in American cities,” he writes in a recent article in The Journal of American History.

It may be hard to envision a time when squirrels were not a ubiquitous presence in urban parks and trees—not to mention Internet memes. But Benson, who received his PhD in history from MIT’s Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), says that several factors that came together to bring squirrels to cities starting in the mid-nineteenth century.

Now an assistant professor in the department of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, Benson was recently profiled on the MIT Alumni Association’s Slice of MIT blog.

To learn more about Benson and the history of squirrels, visit the Slice of MIT.

 

 

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