Vanished: Imagining Extinction

This whistle-stop tour traces the emergence of new ideas about extinction in the French Revolution to the present day, exploring their legacy on our understanding of race and empire.


We are so familiar with extinction that it is hard to imagine a world where no one believed that anything had gone extinct. 

Yet the science of extinction is surprisingly modern. Until the eighteenth century, well-known losses, such as the Mauritian dodo, were attributed to human actions. It wasn't until the late 1700s that Western thinkers began to consider that extinction could be caused by forces other than humans. This coincided with the revelation by George Cuvier that fossilised beasts, such as the Mastodon, were actually extinct species, belonging to different groups than their living relatives. This revolutionary thinking led to the shocking realisation that extinction was widespread in Earth’s history and gave rise to fears that animals, colonised peoples, and cultures could all be on the verge of extinction. 

Join us for a fascinating talk about our changing understanding of extinction as it relates not only to the history of science, but also of race and empire. We'll also learn about how centuries old-concepts of extinction impact present-day movements like Extinction Rebellion.


This event is free, but please book your tickets in advance.


About the speaker

Sadiah Qureshi is an historian of racism, science and empire. Her first book, Peoples on Parade (2011), explored the importance of displayed peoples for the emergence of anthropology. She is currently writing her next book, provisionally entitled Vanished: Episodes in the History of Extinction, for Allen Lane, supported by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship. During Trinity term, she is a Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Library.


Accessibility information

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For more information, please visit our accessibility webpage, or contact Chris Jarvis (