Scarlet Experiment


Scarlet Experiment

Birds and Humans in America

Jeff Karnicky

246 pages
2 illustrations, index


November 2016


$45.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2016


$45.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2016


$45.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Emily Dickinson’s poem “Split the Lark” refers to the “scarlet experiment” by which scientists destroy a bird in order to learn more about it. Indeed, humans have killed hundreds of millions of birds—for science, fashion, curiosity, and myriad other reasons. In the United States alone, seven species of birds are now extinct and another ninety-three are endangered. Conversely, the U.S. conservation movement has made bird-watching more popular than ever, saving countless bird populations; and while the history of actual physical human interaction with birds is complicated, our long aesthetic and scientific interest in them is undeniable. Since the beginning of the modern conservation movement in the mid-nineteenth century, human understanding of and interaction with birds has changed profoundly. In Scarlet Experiment, Jeff Karnicky traces the ways in which birds have historically been seen as beautiful creatures worthy of protection and study and yet subject to experiments—scientific, literary, and governmental—that have irrevocably altered their relationship with humans.

This examination of the management of bird life in America from the nineteenth century to today, which focuses on six bird species, finds that renderings of birds by such authors as Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Don DeLillo, and Christopher Cokinos, have also influenced public perceptions and actions. Scarlet Experiment speculates about the effects our decisions will have on the future of North American bird ecology. 



Author Bio

Jeff Karnicky is an associate professor of English at Drake University. He is the author of Contemporary Fiction and the Ethics of Modern Culture.


"A good introduction to this vibrant literature."—Amy Coale, H-Environment

"The subject of this carefully documented and well researched book is how experiments, in all senses of the word, have affected both humans and birds in America over the last two centuries."—David J. Robertson, Natural Areas Journal

“The breadth and coverage of not only the science but the history and changing treatment of birds is astounding. . . . Brilliantly written.”—Heidi Marcum, senior lecturer in the Department of Environmental Science at Baylor University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Introduction: Split the Lark    
1. Emotion and Intelligence: The Blue Jay    
2. Interpellation and Interiority: The European Starling    
3. Capital and Conservation: The Red Knot    
4. Nuisance and Neighbor: Canada Goose    
5. Confusion and Classification: Black-Crested Titmouse or Tufted Titmouse    
Conclusion: The Future of Birds    

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