Research

Transforming and unsettling

Jane Carruthers receives the Distinguished Scholar Award from Graeme Wynn (President: American Society for Environmental History).

“Her South African stories, rich with the cultural complexities of her home country, have transformed, and at times unsettled, environmental understandings of science, national parks, and wildlife management.”

Jane Carruthers (FRSSAf, ASSAf), Emeritus Professor in the Department of History at Unisa and a Research Associate of the Centre for Invasion Biology at the University of Stellenbosch, has capped a distinguished academic career by receiving the 2018 Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Society for Environmental History for her critical contributions to the fields of environmental justice, national parks and preservation, and transnational environmental history.

Carruthers is the first person outside the USA, and only the second woman, to have been given this prestigious distinction. Her pioneering scholarship on Kruger National Park, published in 1995, engaged political and social history, along with the history of nationalism; her work challenged historians of parks to consider environmental justice and dispossession as well as preservation and recreation in national parks, and to consider the impact of parks beyond their immediate borders.

She has also made important contributions to transnational research, comparing Australian and South African national parks. As Christof Mauch recently noted, ‘Jane’s South African stories, rich with the cultural complexities of her home country, have transformed, and at times unsettled, environmental understandings of science, national parks, and wildlife management.’

In her response to the award, Carruthers alluded to her isolation as an environmental historian in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, thus emphasising how important her inspiration from abroad had been. She mentioned how her revisionist history of the Kruger National Park had been welcomed internationally but not at home where she became the object of abusive correspondence and unpleasant criticism in the media.

Carruthers has been active as a public intellectual, as well as an academic. She has advised South African National Parks on the human side of preservation efforts. She has collaborated with biologists and ecologists to engage policy-making. She has held leadership positions in numerous societies and on editorial boards and was founding President of the International Consortium of Environmental History Organisations based at Duke University, Chair of the Rachel Carson Centre for Environment and Society in Munich, and past president of the Southern African Historical Society.

She has held various visiting fellowships abroad and has been the recipient of numerous academic prizes, including runner-up lifetime achiever for the South African National Science and Technology Forum (2015) and for the Human Sciences Research Council medal (2017), the only person to have been recognised in this way by the sciences as well as the humanities.

*Compiled by Virginia McManus