Conversations in Science Series
A program conceived and organized by the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the collaboration of the Madison Metropolitan School District
and the Edgewood Sonderegger Science Center

Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Sonderegger Science Center (Click here for parking information)
1000 Edgewood College Drive Madison, Wisconsin

Professor Gregg Mitman
Nelson Institute for Environmental Study

“From Marching Penguins to Charging Buffalo:
The Moral Tales of Nature Film”

The Conversations in Science Series brings together UW-Madison researchers and Dane County teachers in order to foster significant connections. Now in its 10th year, the Series is designed to provide personal enrichment to teachers in a wide range of areas related to science, technology and society, and to enable researchers and educators to share their expertise with the Dane County community.


In the spring of 2005, emperor penguins were on the move. From their home in Antarctica, they had, within a matter of months, appeared on every continent of the globe. This was not some remarkable feat of biological migration. Rather, it was a triumph of technology, storytelling, and the multinational media industry. The film, "March of the Penguins," released by Warner Independent Pictures, a subsidiary of the multimedia giant, Warner Brothers Entertainment, made movie history. With gross earnings of $77 million in the United States, it became the second-highest grossing documentary ever to be released in North America just behind Michael Moore’s "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Through an investigation of wildlife films produced over the last decade from "March of the Penguins" to the YouTube splash, “Battle at Kruger,” this talk explores the place of nature film in shaping the contours of human-animal relations. If the new green wave of cinema is to be more than a passing consumer fad, a concerted effort is needed to strengthen the connections between filmmaking and community activism already underway. New media technologies have opened up the possibilities for new material, new voices, and new points of view. Outside the powerful networks of film distribution and promotion, new relationships across art, science, and activism are being forged, helping to create media that matters in the lives of people and animals throughout the world.


Gregg Mitman is William Coleman Professor of History of Science and Professor of Medical History and Science & Technology Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also serves as the interim director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. His research and teaching interests span the history of ecology, nature, and health in American culture, and are informed by a commitment and hope to help build a more equitable and just environment. He is the author of The State of Nature: Ecology and American Social Thought, 1900-1950 (1992), Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film (1999), and Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes (2007).

Suggested Reading

Gregg Mitman, Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film, 2d ed. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009)


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