“Never so at Home:” Charles Elton and the Woods of Wytham

Charles Elton (1900-1991) has been called many things: a founding father of ecology and a pioneer in conservation; an academic ecologist with a preference for dry, scientific, accounts; and a naturalist with a deep emotional connection to the environments he studied. A former student of Julian Huxley at the University of Oxford, Elton played a significant role in building the academic foundation for ecology in Britain, including being a founding editor of the Journal of Animal Ecology and establishing the Bureau of Animal Population. After traveling in the Arctic and Northern Canada, both destinations growing in popularity with ecology researchers in the early twentieth century, Elton came to dedicate the majority of his career to a small area of woodland called Wytham Woods. What was it about this scientific environment that made it worthy of such long-term intellectual – and I will argue emotional – fidelity? This presentation will seek to answer this question with a particular focus on the experience – intellectual, sensorial, and emotional – of researching and teaching in Wytham Woods. As such, I examine the role of emotional connection and aesthetics in how scientific sites are formed and maintained over long periods of time.