How Partisan are NGOs?

This summer I worked with Professor Benjamin Ho from the Economics department studying NGO partisanship. This is a rather funny question to tackle as Non-Governmental Organizations are legally required to be non-partisan. They cannot support or oppose  political parties, candidates, and the like or they face the risk of losing tax-exempt status. However, NGOs can take positions on political issues. Because of this, when looking through a list of popular NGOs, one usually has some intuition on whether it is right or left leaning, despite the non-partisan status. A good is example is the organization Planned Parenthood, which has associated itself with liberal values.

While it is not surprising that NGOs have partisan bias, there is a lack of research that specifies how much, or to what degree. We wanted to give every organization some sort of score, which would then allow each to fall somewhere on a partisan scale. We decided to utilize CharityNavigator, a website that evaluates charities’ performance by analyzing their financial records, accountability, and transparency. This provided our list of organizations to study. There are a few categories that CharityNavigator collects for each organization including but not limited to: program expenses, tax information, mission statements, etc. With a wealth of information on each charity, we then had to figure out what was relevant to us on our quest to tease out partisanship. So began my first task: researching the different methods people have used to determine partisanship.

Naturally, the are several ways to do this, but the method that became apparent to use was some form of text analysis. This was surprising to me at first, and slightly daunting. If my task was to create some sort of numerical score, the last thing I wanted to work with was words. Luckily it’s been done before. At this point it’s common knowledge that Fox news is more conservative than the New York Times, but the research that proves this was done by researchers Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro. Here is their basic idea: liberals and conservatives use different vocabulary, therefore language choice is an indicator of partisanship. They created a liberal and conservative corpus (basically a compilation of words) by collecting congressional records (a daily document that contains all the speeches made in congress) and sorting each speech based on whether the speaker was a Democrat of Republican. Then, they compared the language from various media outlets to each corpus and developed similarity scores.

I set out to do the same thing, which meant I had to first learn some technical skills. As I mentioned before, CharityNavigator conveniently has each organization’s mission statement (we would use these to compare to the liberal and conservative congressional documents), but there are over 8,000 charities. Collecting these mission statements by hand would be impossible. Likewise, the daily congressional record PDF document is usually over 200 pages. I had to learn how to webscrape, which is an automated process of collecting data off of web pages, and to do this, I had to learn the coding language Python.

Luckily, I have coding experience, so learning these skills wasn’t too difficult and actually ended up being one of the most satisfying parts of this project. The idea of having to somehow collect 8,000+ mission statements was panic-inducing, but once I had worked out the code, pressed the ‘run’ button, and watched as all the information I wanted showed up in my excel document, I finally had confidence that I could successfully complete this project.

We decided to use Bayes’ Theorem as our text analysis method, which again was inspired by work done by Gentzkow and Shapiro.

We use this equation to answer this question: Given a certain word or phrase, what is the probability that the speaker is Republican?

We did this for all relevant words and phrases in each mission statement. Let’s take a look at the ACLU Foundation of Maryland’s mission statement: “The Maryland ACLU works to ensure that all people in the state of Maryland are free to think and speak as they choose and can lead their lives free from discrimination and unwarranted government intrusion. We are guided in our work by the United States Bill of Rights and the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The Maryland ACLU acts without partisanship to achieve these goals. We work in the state and federal courts, the Maryland General Assembly and local governments, and in communities across the state to realize this goal.”

It explicitly states that it is a nonpartisan organization, but it’s compilation of words and phrases have a .18 score, which indicates that democrats are more likely to use the language that this organization used. In turn, we see this as an indicator that this organization is more likely to be liberal-leaning. We attempt to verify this by checking the voting data from the county the organization is located in, the assumption being that liberal-leaning charities are more likely to congregate in liberal-leaning counties. While this is not accurate for every single charity, it helps us gauge the accuracy of our Bayes’ theorem method.

Overall, our findings have mostly lined up with our natural intuitions, which is a good sign. The nature of this project doesn’t quite lend itself to discovering groundbreaking results – if our measure said Planned Parenthood was actually conservative, it would cause me to take a second look at my code rather than get excited about publishing my surprising findings. This has been the first time that I’ve looked for comforting results, rather than exciting ones.

Our next stage is a survey that will examine the link between people’s partisanship and their relationship and perception of these very same organizations that we’ve already scored. Whether the results are comforting or exciting, I’m greatly looking forward to continuing with this project and am incredibly grateful for the experience I’ve had this summer.

Taxation and Governance by Armed Groups

This summer, I worked with Professor Zachariah Mampilly from the Political Science Department studying taxation by armed groups in conflict zones. The work undertaken this summer is part of a continuing project by Professor Mampilly that seeks to better understand and explain the underlying logic of taxation by rebel groups in areas under their control.

We started by compiling and reviewing existing literature on taxation and its relationship to rebel governance. Much of this work relies on a paradigm of economic instrumentalism to explain why and how armed groups engage in taxation. This body of work paints a broad picture that tends to obscure or ignore the varieties of practices that characterize taxation by different active and historical rebel groups globally. In order to better account for the diversity of practices and goals of different rebel groups, we identified a number of active groups in different parts of the world to focus on and researched their tax practices to evaluate existing and proposed hypotheses about the economic and non-economic motivations for rebel taxation.

 (NSCN-IM Camp Hebron, Nagaland, India)

One group we focused on was the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), a nationalist insurgent group based in northeastern India that is known for its heavy taxation of the region under its control. In July, Professor Mampilly traveled to India to conduct fieldwork in Nagaland, while I remained at Vassar to analyze data collected from the trip. His interviews in India yielded data from civil society groups in Nagaland about current and historical NSCN-IM tax collection practices that allowed us critically evaluate purely economic explanations for rebel tax structures in existing literature, specifically their reliance on the idea of time horizons determining tax behaviors as proposed by Mancur Olson. The primary source tax data about the NSCN-IM seems to point instead toward other motivations behind taxation, which will require additional data collection and analysis to fully explore.

Overall, working with Professor Mampilly in early stage research for a long-term project was a rewarding and illuminating experience.

Black in the American Courthouse

This summer I had the pleasure of working with Assistant Political Science Professor Taneisha Means on a project entitled Black in the American Courthouse: Black Judges and Representation in the 21st Century. This on-going project seeks to examine the significance of diversity on the bench—specifically as it applies to black state-level justices.

I needed to dive straight into a number of rich texts which provided a sense of framing for the rest of the summer. During my first week, I worked to familiarize myself with the ideas and definitions introduced by: Black Faces in the Mirror by Katherine Tate, Black Mosaic; The Politics of Black Pan-Ethnic Diversity by Candis Watts-Smith, and Sisters in the Statehouse by Nadia E. Brown. These texts had influenced and informed Means’ initial work on this project, and they inspired me to dig up every syllabus I’ve encountered during my time at Vassar, because I knew I had been introduced to ideas that could further enrich the project as we moved forward. Means made it clear in the beginning that this research process would be a collaborative one, and from the very first days of research she welcomed fresh ideas as well as my voluntary act of checking out nearly 15 books she did not assign.

By the second week we had already begun recreating a new survey instrument and interview questionnaire, and from there several tasks began and were works-in-progress throughout the last six weeks of the program. While the survey and interview questionnaire were still being drafted between the two of us, I began the creation of a database of black judges across the nation. Means had already ran into the issue of locating judges for interview and surveying purposes in the past, so the continual cataloging of judges’ contact information became a big goal for the project. Around this same time I was also tasked with transcribing and analyzing nearly 30 interviews that Means had already conducted.

Photo Courtesy of Karl Rabe

The mentorship and research opportunity that Professor Means provided for me during this summer completely exceeded all of my expectations for this program. Not only did this project gave me several ideas for a thesis in political science, but it fully rekindled my desire to pursue academia as a career. I am beyond thrilled to be able to continue with this project as Professor Means’ research assistant this fall.

The Intergenerational Effects of Malnutrition and Disease

This summer, I worked with Professor Gisella Kagy in the Economics department to understand the impact of harmful early life health conditions, including in utero effects, and their persistence over generations. Little is known about these effects over time, but studying this transmission within families is important in understanding the overall development process, our relationship with our environment, and how what is available to us also has an impact on our lives.

The project focused on literature review of what is currently known in regards to the multigenerational impact on mothers and infants (looking at malnutrition, disease, stress, etc.) to further provide insight on the welfare impacts that is still widely prevalent in less developed countries

Over my weeks, I was able to read through many studies that focused on various inequalities/obstacles that families faced and their overall influence. For example, to look at malnutrition, many of the natural experiments focused on the impact of a famine to a generation and its lasting impact. These studies identified low birth weights and showed associations to later life outcomes with negative relationships to socioeconomic status, mental health, and educational attainment as examples.

A number of studies also looked at the impact of discrimination and stress to pregnant mothers and what that meant in regards to the next (and future) generations. For example, birth outcomes of Arabic-named women were tracked post-9/11 – the impact was shown to be significant and harmful, as measured by preterm birth and low birth weights, which has its own associations in later life outcomes.

It was interesting to see patterns come about. Many studies focused on natural experiments to discuss these intergenerational trends. While it becomes difficult to reach definitive conclusions, statistically significant and rational associations become useful in raising questions about what can be done, how certain demographics can be helped, and whether new policies can be implemented for a larger purpose.

With this project serving as background information on the intergenerational effects of the 1974-1975 Bangladesh Famine, it was important to develop my own questions about the readings to further guide me through my weeks.

Documenting Institutional Memories through the Experiences of POC Students with Digital Spaces

This summer I worked alongside Professor Ellman to create a website that would allow POC students at Vassar to post about their experiences as they attend an elite institution that has historically marginalized their voices & perspectives.

After the events of last school year, with the election of Trump, and the series of bias incidents that occurred on campus, Vassar saw students come together and present a united front against ignorance, hatred & bigotry. There was also quite a bit of talk about transparency and the need for institutional memory. We felt the construction of a digital space meant to reflect the experiences of POC students could act as a institutional memory for these students. A digital space that would exist beyond the 4 year lifespan of an undergrad student, giving incoming students a concrete resource to rely on & to inform them on how to navigate Vassar.

So we spent the summer researching, interviewing & recording. We spent a lot of time compiling resources that would be available on the website in order to help to educate those who utilize the site. These were mostly books, and academic journals that shed light on the issues at hand, giving people a sort of syllabus to follow.

In conjunction with this, we conducted a couple of interviews with students. The purpose of these interviews were to post a series of experiences from the perspective of students, as they navigate Vassar. The questions focused around the microaggressions they’ve experienced on campus, how they’ve dealt with this issues and the resources and support systems they have sought out/created in order to take care of themselves.

FAKE – Elena Schultz and Amitava Kumar

On December 10, 2016, the phrase “fake news” was first tweeted by @realDonaldTrump:

“Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are ridiculous & untrue – FAKE NEWS!”

While emblematic of the recent presidential election and the present political climate at large, Trump’s decrial of the fake news media is hardly a new phenomenon. Rumors, mistruths, and propaganda have persisted since long before Twitter was invented. “Fake news” has functioned historically as a powerful mechanism of oppression and resistance alike, adopting different meanings and consequences for each group that participates in its circulation.

Taking its starting point at the present political moment and working backward, our project culminated in the collection of 100 historical case studies, each detailing the story of a rumor and its aftermath. For example, one case study examined the role of rumors in the Velvet Revolution:

The Czechoslovakian revolution—dubbed the Velvet Revolution—began with a rumor. A mass of thousands of Czechs marching culminated in violence after a lie was spread that claimed that Martin Smid, a 19-year-old college student, had been beaten to death by the police. The revolution ended in the Czechoslovakian regime’s collapse, but the rumor itself had been spread by a journalist and dissident named Jan Urban, who called it a “professional blunder.”

Further case studies attended to medical rumors, such as urban legends surrounding the AIDS crisis, while others examined the rumors that multiply exponentially following moments of political upheaval. The very first case study we recorded this summer, circa 411 AD, focused on a story of a Greek barber who was too easily fooled by a local rumor, which then was recanted as a moral lesson by the philosopher Plutarch.

The formatting of the 100 historical case studies was modeled largely after Tamotsu Shibutani’s seminal work, Improvised News, a fundamental text on rumor studies which examines a number of historical rumors through sociological theory. Our case studies were further supplemented with psychological studies in order to more deeply understand the role of rumor in the human psyche. One, for instance, examined rumor transmission in preschoolers, while another discovered that young girls undergoing early puberty are disproportionately exposed to rumors of higher frequency and intensity than their peers. Allport & Postman, likewise, established the Basic Law of Rumor, a formula by which rumor transmission can be modeled (for the curious: Rumor spread = Importance x Ambiguity).

Of critical importance to our project were recurring visits to libraries in New York City to conduct archival research. At the hallowed New York Public Library, Rebecca Federman, a Vassar alum and Research Coordinator, assisted us in the fundamentals of historical research. During a later visit to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, we accessed the library archives and pored over the George Marshall papers, which included newspaper reports on rumors that culminated in violence and lynchings in America from 1933-1955.

By tracking the lifespan of 100 historical rumors, we became more acutely aware over the course of our two-month project of the myriad ways that lies, rumors, and more specifically, fake news, become accepted as fact. Professor Kumar intends to release the results of the project in a forthcoming book, and I hope to pursue our research in a senior thesis in English—I was particularly struck by a case study on the literature of pseudoscience. This project was my first real step into conducting independent, long-term academic research, and I was relieved to discover that this is work I thoroughly enjoy and could spend a lifetime doing.

Working at the New York Public Library.

 

Citations

Bilefsky, Dan. “A rumor that set off the Velvet Revolution.” International Herald Tribune, 18 Nov. 2009. Infotrac

Bordia, Prashant and DiFonzo, Nicholas. “When social psychology became less social: Prasad and the history of rumor research.” Asian Journal of Social Psychology (2002) 5: 49–61

Principe, Gabrielle F. et al. “How Rumors Can Engender False Memories in Preschoolers.” Psychological Silence, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Mar., 2006), pp. 243-248.

Shibutani, T. Improvised News: a Sociological Study of Rumor. 1966. Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, IN.

Women in Coding: Media Exposure and Women’s Occupational Choices

This summer I worked with Professor Sarah Pearlman studying the effect of media exposure on women’s likelihood to study or work in computer science. The work completed this summer will be used in a future paper by Professor Pearlman in collaboration with Professors Emily Conover of Hamilton College and Melanie Khamis of Wesleyan College. Our research was inspired by a Planet Money podcast titled “When Women Stop Coding,” which documents and attempts to explain why women are drastically underrepresented in both computer science majors and occupations. In the podcast, the hosts discuss the following graph, which we recreated:

As the graph shows, the trend of female participation in computer science differs from other STEM and high-paying fields—falling drastically after 1984—while female participation rates in all other fields continue to increase. Inspired by Planet Money’s motivating graph, we set out to explain why women are underrepresented in computer science, and in particular, why the trend shifts in 1984.

The first two weeks of the project were spent conducting a literature review of the existing research on the gender wage gap, female occupational choices, the effect of media exposure on individuals, and the cable TV industry. Many sociology and history papers suggest that depictions of computer science in the media may dissuade women from entering the field. Interestingly, 1984 is the year in which the cable TV industry was deregulated by the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, causing a large market expansion for cable providers. At the same time, computer science (and more specifically, the nerdy, male computer scientist trope) was gaining traction in American media, as evidenced by movies such as WarGames, Revenge of the Nerds, and Weird Science. In conjunction, the trend in media and cable deregulation and the concurrent industry surge may have caused girls in the 1980s to witness extremely sexist depictions of computer science at a much higher rate than before. This could potentially have led to a drop in female interest in computer science, which would be followed by a drop in female participation in computer-related academia. Due to how cable was developed and how it physically functioned, our hope is to exploit the pattern of cable expansion over time to find natural experiments in which some communities received cable TV access before others by pure chance.

Though we had our plan of analysis mapped out, obtaining the exact data set with which to conduct the analysis was a more complicated matter. It took several weeks to locate the data, but that gave us time to clean other data sets and generate summary statistics, motivating regressions, and graphs to contextualize our research. After reaching out to government agencies, private companies, and libraries, a research librarian at the New York Public Library finally pointed us in the direction of the “Broadcasting/Cablecasting Yearbook, 1989.” We took a day trip to the Science, Industry, and Business branch of the New York Public Library and photocopied over 300 pages of data, which we then manually entered into a spreadsheet for over a week.

1 of 300 pages of raw data

Corresponding data entry

 

Once completed, we were able to run preliminary regressions in Stata and began learning how to use GIS (a map-based analysis software). After only a few days of working with GIS, we were able to create a map which shows cable expansion over time.

This project has provided me with an invaluable glimpse into the day to day process of economic research and has provided me with a multitude of important research skills beyond what ordinary classwork requires.

The Role of Community-based Organizing in Generating Change

 

This Summer, I worked with Nic Gedigk ‘19 and Associate Professor of Anthropology Candice Lowe Swift on a project using R.E.A.L. Skills as a case study on the impact and sustainability of community based non-profit organizations. Ultimately, we sought to expand our understanding of the role that these may play in creating personal and social change in low-income communities, and how such organizations might be sustained.

Photo Credit: ©Vassar College/ Karl Rabe

So, what is R.E.A.L. Skills? To me, it first began as an acronym. Then, it was an acronym that had meaning – Relationship. Empowerment. Affirmation. Leadership (R.E.A.L.). By the end, it was an acronym whose meaning exemplified a lived philosophy – the lived philosophy of a youth empowerment organization that draws its strength from its community (Poughkeepsie, NY), and channels that strength into a force for growth and change.

As a collaborative, feminist, and publicly engaged anthropological project, our main research methodologies were participant observation and ethnography. Accordingly, Nic and I went into R.E.A.L Skills daily, and deeply immersed ourselves within the workings of the operation. Essentially, we each played two roles – full time staff members and researchers. As staff members (college fellows), we did everything from administrative support (constructing the Summer Learning Academy’s schedule, preparing requirements for grant applications, and

Nic and Daniela leading a restructured Mentor STEM Training

assisting with the transition from the academic year to the Summer session), to preparing and facilitating mentor trainings, creating and teaching a lesson plan on a topic of our interest, and finally, to becoming mentors ourselves. The majority of our time was spent working with the high school mentors and adult staff to provide children from 1st through 5th grade with the best Summer experience possible.

As researchers, Nic and I tried to develop a conceptual map of the actors, services, and policies and that directly influence  R.E.A.L. Skills’ operation. Our first task was understanding what R.E.A.L. Skills is, and what it does. From its mission statement, we know that the program’s initiatives are designed to teach at risk youth (youth with promise) how to navigate the paths of traditional social, educational, and judicial systems, and to understand and obtain mainstream skill competency levels and social values that would empower them to become more successful individuals. Thus, participant observation allowed us see what parts of the program were narrowly tailored to meet said objectives, who were the main beneficiaries, and what unintended but positive consequences arose from them.

This Summer we witnessed and were part of two initiatives – the Summer Learning Academy for elementary school students and the Peer Mentors program designed for high school students. The Summer Learning Academy began the day with breakfast, followed by a community meeting in which values like honesty, integrity, and self-reflection were emphasized, then a word of the day activity ensued, and academics concluded the morning. This Summer, the academics portion was dedicated to making STEM feel fun and accessible to the children.

Photo Credit: ©Vassar College/ Karl Rabe

We used home supplies to design projects like rockets, parachutes, and race cars, and did journal writing to make sure that the kids understood the connection between the hands on activity and STEM.  After lunch, recreational activities like gym, cultural dance, arts and crafts, and circus time ensued. Educational trips to the Museum of Natural History, Marist College, and Wilcox State Park were also scheduled into the programming.

 

The Peer Mentors program consists of a series of trainings by which high school students become certified in skills like meditation and conflict resolution, alternatives to violence, and peer leadership education and training. Once trained and certified, students are hired to work as mentors for the elementary school children. Many of the mentors grew up coming to R.E.A.L Skills as children, so the Peer Mentor program serves as the next step for them to continue to grow and develop the skills necessary to succeed in life. Every aspect of R.E.A.L Skills is centered on growth, hence their title, “Growth Gang.”

On the surface, R.E.A.L Skills’ main beneficiaries are Poughkeepsie’s youth. However, their impact extends way beyond this demographic. When I asked a teacher what R.E.A.L Skills’ purpose is, she answered, “Better. We want better – better days, better education, better parenting, better role models, a better community – just better all around.” Thus, the organization’s efforts towards a better tomorrow may focus on the youth, but its impact is felt through the whole community. Their scheduling and programing allows working parents to have better days knowing that their kids have a safe and nurturing place to go when they’re not in school. The “R.E.A.L” values students learn and practice (Relationship. Empowerment. Affirmation. Leadership) create individuals better able to navigate traditional spaces, while remaining proud of who they are and where they come from. The truth is, when you invest in a

Trip to Marist College

child, you invest in a better future. For example, several alumni who went on to college returned to contribute their knowledge and individual skills to the community program that helped them get there. After graduating, many hope to work on improving their community. Thus, as a proactive youth empowerment program, R.E.A.L Skills is changing Poughkeepsie’s future.

This project designed towards the intersection of scholarship and activism built upon prior research conducted by Professor Lowe Swift, and is only the most recent example of Vassar’s engagement with R.E.A.L Skills. Over the course of ten years, R.E.A.L Skills has had over 1,000 Vassar interns – 1,000 students who have touched and been touched by R.E.A.L Skills specifically, and Poughkeepsie’s community more generally. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship – we offer our energy, hearts, and minds to the R.E.A.L Skills family, they return them nurtured by the touch of a real and vibrant community.

Currently, Professor Lowe Swift, Nic, and I are working on providing Theodore “Tree” Arrington, the director, with a report of our observations with the aim of sustainability in mind. As we move into the academic year, we will continue our research on the impact and sustainability of community based non-profit organizations through the form of an independent study.  

Social Justice and Greco-Roman Antiquity Online

This summer I worked with Professor Curtis Dozier from the Greek and Roman Studies Department on documenting and responding to online misappropriations of Classical antiquity by far-right groups. The alt-right has a strong online presence and frequently uses misappropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity to bolster their hate-filled claims. Our two main goals were to document these misappropriations and to create an online forum where the public can see historically-accurate information on Greco-Roman antiquity that offsets and complicates the misleading narrative the alt-right is creating.

The title image of a guest post taken from the website mattforney.com

We started by creating a database of online misappropriations organized under headings like “anti-immigration” and “men’s rights.” The examples ranged from memes to news reports of protests by the alt right. While there are Classicists discussing the alt-right’s commandeering of Greco-Roman antiquity, a large number are unaware of the extent and even the existence of such uses. Hence, another part of the project was reaching out to scholars to share misappropriations and hear the scholars’ opinions.

I researched the instances being referenced by alt-right posters to check accuracy and to create possible responses for different posts, while collecting a list of scholars whom I thought had the expertise necessary to assist the project. Most of the scholars I contacted wrote back, and many shared source recommendations and their own thoughts. While we did disagree with the ideologies the alt-right was promoting, and occasionally promoted our own opinions, we worked to show that there are objective and historically accurate ways to study antiquity.

When writing our responses, we worked to distill complex academic scholarship into a publicly-accessible form, while striving to maintain the substance and nuances of that scholarship.

The Amazon Parrots of the Caribbean

Amazona versicolor at St. Lucia’s forestry department.

This summer, I worked with Professor Lizabeth Paravisini on determining the reasons for the endangered status of several species of Caribbean parrots and documenting the efforts that are being made to conserve them.  The research we conducted will serve as the foundation of Professor Paravisini’s newest book, an environmental biography that will inform readers of the history of Caribbean parrots and macaws. We began the project focusing on the parrots of Cuba, Dominica and St. Lucia before shifting our focus to attempting to piece together the history of the Caribbean macaws, which are now all extinct.

We spent most of the month of June traveling between Cuba, Dominica and St. Lucia, conducting interviews with prominent figures in parrot conservation. Since we had entered this phase of the project with several concrete theories about the factors that led the Caribbean parrots to become endangered, our focus was on the efforts to conserve the parrots species.

One of 85 artificial nests in Hanabanilla, Cuba. These nests are made out of mud and cement.

Arriving in Cuba, we quickly realized that the laws protecting their parrot population are loosely enforced, doing little to reduce the local parrot trade. Consequently, upon showing interest in the parrot population, Professor Paravisini and I were repeatedly asked if we wanted to purchase a parrot. This is particularly disheartening considering that the parrot population in Cuba is slowly decreasing. Through conversations with forestry officials, we were informed that one of their active conservation projects involves using artificial nests to promote breeding among the parrots since they nest in pre-existing tree cavities. This was a strategy we also noticed in St. Lucia and Dominica, with varying degrees of success.

In comparison, over the course of our time in St. Lucia and Dominica, it was easy to see the booming numbers of their parrot species. We were aware of an educational campaign that began in the 1970’s and 80’s, when the parrot species on both islands was at a dangerous low. Through our research, we found out that in Dominica, the forestry department began the parrot conservation efforts earlier than that, when one of their parrot species became a national symbol upon Dominica’s independence. We heard from several people that parrots had been spotted flying over the ocean in Dominica and were starting to become a pest for farmers in both countries, testaments to the increase in the population of parrots.

Amazona aurausiaca, Dominica’s red-necked parrot, spotted through a telescope in the Syndicate National Park.

In July, I was tasked with collecting all the information that was available through the Internet on the Caribbean macaws. This was a daunting task because all of them have been extinct for centuries, and most of them are categorized as “hypothetical” species. They are categorized in this way because there aren’t any fossils or skins of the macaws to scientifically support their existence, only brief descriptions written during the colonial period. Although most of the literature on the “hypothetical” macaws refutes their existence by comparing their descriptions to those of birds from other nearby islands, I was able to find the original descriptions as well as several depictions of macaws in paintings of European courts that match the descriptions of the “hypothetical” macaws. This finding was exciting because it supports Professor Paravisini’s theory that Christopher Columbus took several species of Caribbean macaws to European courts and to be traded, beginning the demise of the species.

Participating in this project was an incredible experience. It was inspiring to hear so many success stories and to have been a part of the first attempt to piece together the history of these birds.