Thomas M. Lekan (NHC Fellow, 2009–10; 2010–11; 2022–23)

Project Title, 2022–23

“Conservation by Slaughter”: Wildlife Utilization and the African Origins of Sustainable Development, 1959–1980

Donnelley Family Fellowship, 2022–23

Professor of History, University of South Carolina

Project Title, 2010–11

Green Tourism: Consumption and Conservation in 20th Century Germany

University of South Carolina

Project Title, 2009–10

Green Tourism: Consumption and Conservation in 20th Century Germany

University of South Carolina

Thomas M. Lekan (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999) is professor of history at the University of South Carolina and a faculty affiliate in the School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment. Lekan splits his undergraduate and graduate teaching at the University of South Carolina between classes in modern European history and courses in environmental studies and sciences. He is a recipient of the Golden Key Award for the Creative Integration of Research and Teaching and the Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Lekan’s research examines European environmental history and the legacies of green imperialism, particularly the frictions between global and local wildlife conservation and the uneven effects of tourism as a lever of sustainable development in East Africa during the decades of decolonization and early independence (ca. 1950–1980). He recently published Our Gigantic Zoo: A German Quest to Save the Serengeti (Oxford, 2020), which investigates the work of Bernhard Grzimek, Germany’s most important twentieth-century conservationist. The book examines the tensions between global ambition and local place-making during the mid-century expansion of national parks, nature tourism, and wildlife television. Our Gigantic Zoo received the German Studies Association’s DAAD Prize for Best Book in History & the Social Sciences in 2021. His National Humanities Center book project, Conservation by Slaughter: Wildlife Utilization and the African Origins of Sustainable Development, takes readers beyond the frontiers of East Africa’s famous national parks. Lekan explores the pastoral savanna landscapes where wild mammals became objects of international economic development, state resource conservation, and Cold War rivalry amid the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

Selected Publications

Our Gigantic Zoo

  • Lekan, Thomas M. Our Gigantic Zoo: A German Quest to Save the Serengeti. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.
  • Emmett, Robert, and Thomas M. Lekan. “Whose Anthropocene? Revisiting Dipesh Chakrabarty’s ‘Four Theses’.” RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society 2 (2016).
  • Lekan, Thomas M. “A Natural History of Modernity: Bernhard Grzimek and the Globalization of Environmental Kulturkritik.” New German Critique 43, no. 2 The Challenge of Ecology to the Humanities: Posthumanism or Humanism? (August 2016): 55–82.
  • Lekan, Thomas M., and Thomas Zeller, eds. Germany’s Nature: Cultural Landscapes and Environmental History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.
  • Lekan, Thomas M. Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German Identity, 1885–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Fellowship Work Summary, 2010–11

Thomas M. Lekan continued work on Saving the Serengeti: Bernhard Grzimek, Nature Tourism, and the Unintended Consequences of Western Environmentalism, under contract with Oxford University Press, and completed “Serengeti Shall Not Die: Bernhard Grzimek, Wildlife Film, and the Making of a Tourist Landscape in East Africa” for German History (2011).

Fellowship Work Summary, 2009–10

Thomas M. Lekan completed two chapters of his book Saving the Serengeti: The Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Paradox of Western Conservation. He also revised “Serengeti Shall Not Die: Bernhard Grzimek, Wildlife Film, and the Making of a Tourist Landscape in East Africa” for German History (2011), as well as “Region, Scenery, Power: Cultural Landscapes in Environmental History,” to appear in the Oxford Handbook of Environmental History.

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