Papers in the Biological Sciences


Our past creates our present: a brief overview of racism and colonialism in Western paleontology

Pedro M. Monarrez, Stanford University
Joshua B. Zimmt, University of California, Berkeley
Annaka M. Clement, North Dakota State University
William Gearty, School of Biological Sciences
John J. Jacisin, Texas A&M University
Kelsey M. Jenkins, Yale University
Kristopher M. Kusnerik, Florida Museum of Natural History
Ashley W. Poust, San Diego Natural History Museum
Selina V. Robson, University of Calgary
Judith A. Sclafani, University of Illinois Springfield
Kelsey T. Stilson, Stanford University
Shamindri D. Tennakoon, Florida Museum of Natural History
Carmi Milagros Thompson, Florida Museum of Natural History

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Paleontological Society. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence


As practitioners of a historical science, paleontologists and geoscientists are well versed in the idea that the ability to understand and to anticipate the future relies upon our collective knowledge of the past. Despite this understanding, the fundamental role that the history of paleontology and the geosciences plays in shaping the structure and culture of our disciplines is seldom recognized and therefore not acted upon sufficiently. Here, we present a brief review of the history of paleontology and geology in Western countries, with a particular focus on North America since the 1800s. Western paleontology and geology are intertwined with systematic practices of exclusion, oppression, and erasure that arose from their direct participation in the extraction of geological and biological resources at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Our collective failure to acknowledge this history hinders our ability to address these issues meaningfully and systemically in present-day educational, academic, and professional settings. By discussing these issues and suggesting some ways forward, we intend to promote a deeper reflection upon our collective history and a broader conversation surrounding racism, colonialism, and exclusion within our scientific communities. Ultimately, it is necessary to listen to members of the communities most impacted by these issues to create actionable steps forward while holding ourselves accountable for the past.