Picabo Fraas: Exclusion and Erasure in the Earth Sciences

MA student Picabo Fraas gave an invited talk on exclusion and erasure in the earth sciences for the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmostpheric Sciences (CEOAS). Fraas’s talk was part of CEOAS’ ‘Unpacking Diversity‘ series aimed at highlighting issues of social justice, diversity, and inclusivity in higher education. We are a group of graduate students […]

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January 11, 2021

Picabo Fraas’s invited talk for the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

MA student Picabo Fraas gave an invited talk on exclusion and erasure in the earth sciences for the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmostpheric Sciences (CEOAS). Fraas’s talk was part of CEOAS’ ‘Unpacking Diversity‘ series aimed at highlighting issues of social justice, diversity, and inclusivity in higher education.

We are a group of graduate students creating a space for students, faculty, and staff to have open and honest conversations about social justice, diversity, and inclusivity in higher education (particularly in the sciences), in CEOAS, Oregon State University.

CEOAS Professional Learning Committee Statement

Fraas’s work seeks to examine a history of geology and paleontology from the bottom-up, rather than employing a top-down analysis so common in existing historiography. Fraas examines processes of exploitation and exclusion (whether based on gender, nationality, race, etc.), that actively silence or erase historical actors and actions. In many cases, women and indigenous peoples experience this historical erasure.

Fraas discussed the problem of erasure in the history of Geology during this talk; highlighting actors including Mary Anning and the Lakota Sioux, notably the famous leader Red Cloud.

Palentologist Othniel C. Marsh and Red Cloud in
New Haven, Connecticut c. 1880
Public domain

Asked how this talk directly connect to her own research, Fraas reflected:

This talk was a great opportunity to connect my research to similar moments in the history of earth science. Compiling examples of erasure and exclusion in the history of earth science creates a more impactful image of the ongoing challenges for women and people of color face in the field. While my research offers an in-depth, nuanced look at some of these issues on one particular expedition, it is also important to step back and look at the whole picture and where my research fits within that. 

Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog Tray c. 1840s
Public domain

Fraas’s MA research focuses on Jessie Camp, the wife of paleontologist Dr. Charles L. Camp and her role in the University of California expedition to South Africa between 1947-1848. Fraas argues that Jessie Camp secured her place on the expedition team and created a position of power by capitalizing on her domesticity.

Mrs. Jessie Camp and her son, Charles Camp Jr., in South Africa.
(Courtesy of the University of California Museum of Paleontology)

I asked Fraas how we, as historians, can find agency amidst realities of exclusion and erasure in the earth sciences and what types of sources have been most helpful in this respect?

I think an important part of finding agency amid the reality of exclusion and erasure in the history of the earth sciences begins with redefining what constitutes a contribution to science. Because white male scientists did such a good job of keeping other people out, we need to look beyond how science is traditionally defined in order to uncover more diverse voices. Unfortunately, those other voices can be more difficult to track down. It requires stitching together fragments of archival material to even get a small glimpse of some of these people’s experience. For example, I have a large collection of field notes from Dr. Charles Camp. Each time I see his wife’s name, Jessie, written I place a sticky note on that page. These sticky notes separated by dozens of pages of scientific writing make up Jessie Camp’s story. While it takes quite a bit more work to piece together her story, it is also much more rewarding because it offers a different framing of field life than that of her husband’s. 

Fraas intends to finish her thesis this year, likely defending in Winter 2021.


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CATEGORIES: Graduate Students


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