Nathaniel Otjen was awarded a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences, Studies, and Policy at the University of Oregon in June of 2022. He received a grant for a research project called “Becoming a Troop Member: Feminist Primatology, Self-Narration, and the Politics of Care.” This project aimed to examine the field notes, correspondence, and paper drafts of four feminist primatologists in order to better understand how these scientists positioned themselves as members of primate troops and to explain how their feminist objectivity encouraged later researchers and writers to advocate for human-animal relationships. This grant has been co-funded by the Animals & Society Institute (ASI). He writes:
My project examines the field-notes, correspondence, and paper drafts of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas, and Barbara Smuts to better understand how these primatologists thought of themselves as members of primate troops and to explain how their feminist scientific objectivity led later researchers and writers to promote animal advocacy, particularly the well-being of animals. I am interested in how these primatologists wrote about their interactions with chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and baboons. As such, this project asks: How have feminist primatologists narrated the self in relation to other members of the troop? The findings from this research will shed light on how contemporary scientists and writers see themselves as members of various animal communities who support mutual well-being.
Nathaniel was able to complete his project, finish a chapter of his dissertation, and complete a journal manuscript. He presented a part of his project to the Oregon Humanities Center and workshopped parts of his dissertation at a program for environmental writers. Given the pandemic, Nathaniel was unable to access certain archives, which changed his focus from four specific female primatologists and their work to female primatologists in general. This resulted in a name change, and his project is now known as “Habituated Knowledges: The Entanglements of Science, Species, and Selfhood.” Nathaniel clarifies, “The original argument with its focus on understanding the animal advocacy of several female primatologists remains, however.” The article was published in the journal a/b: Auto/Biography Studies in 2022. You can find his work on his website, here. Currently, Nathaniel is a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Environmental Teaching Fellow at Princeton University.
Nathaniel is the recipient of the 2023 Schachterle Essay Prize from the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) for his article “Habituated Knowledges.”