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Protecting Living Laboratories: The Conservation Movement in the Netherlands East Indies, 1910-1930
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
Northwestern University and Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia
In 1910, the colonial state of Netherlands East Indies established the Department of Agriculture, Industry, and Trade. This department promoted the expansion of the colonial state's agricultural enterprise and facilitate the growing private agriculture, mining, and forest extraction industries. European naturalists at Buitenzorg Botanic Garden in cooperation with the colonial Forestry Service responded to these aggressive attempts to exploit the Indies' nature by starting a conservation movement. The naturalists began the movement by founding the Netherlands Indies Association of Natural History 1911. This Association published a monthly magazine, De Tropische Natuur, to popularize the value of "going back to nature" among the public in colonial urban centers. In 1912, naturalists and foresters pressed the colonial government to protect some areas of the natural landscape from economic exploitations by establishing the Society for Nature Protection. Scholars have mainly argued that Forestry Service officials were the pioneers of the conservation movement in colonial Indonesia. However, this paper argues that biologists also played an essential role in promoting conservation ideas and movements. By foregrounding biologists' role, this paper illustrates how conservation in the Netherlands Indies was more than merely a reaction against increasing forest exploitation. It was also a fragment of biologists' long-term agenda to preserve large portions of the natural landscape deemed necessary for scientific research. The essential role of biologists explained why most of the proposed nature monuments to be protected in the 1910s, such as Krakatau volcanic island, were already crucial "living laboratories" for international biological research.