Plenary Speakers

Kirk Wallace Johnson

The Lessons of the Feather Thief and the Tring Heist

Kirk Wallace Johnson is the author of The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century and To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind, which covers his work coordinating the reconstruction of Fallujah and his subsequent efforts on behalf of thousands of Iraqi refugees as the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies.

His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, among others.

Johnson previously served in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Baghdad and then Fallujah as the Agency's first coordinator for reconstruction in the war-torn city.

He is a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and the recipient of fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Wurlitzer Foundation.  Prior to his work in Iraq, he conducted research on political Islamism as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt. Johnson received his BA from the University of Chicago in 2002.

Born in West Chicago, he lives with his wife and two children in Los Angeles.

Peggy Macnamara

On Collection(s) and Creation

Peggy is an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute.  Peggy has been painting at the Field Museum for over 35 years. Her first published book Painting Wildlife in Watercolor with Watson-Guptill in 2003.


Working with Field Museum scientists she then published four books with University of Chicago Press; Illinois Insects with Jim Boone and John Bates, Architecture by Birds and InsectsThe Art of Migration with John Bates, and the Return of the Peregrine with Mary Hennen.

In 2018, she published a coloring book of museum species and a children’s book, Rosie the Tarantula, a true story about a spider that got loose in the museum and her adventures in the collections and final return to Jim Louderman in the Insect Department. 

Kyle Aaron Copas
Call for a Global Alliance for Biodiversity Knowledge

Kyle Copas is a creative and communications professional whose work over the past two decades has focused on the intersection of sustainable design, conservation and biodiversity information. 

Copas joined GBIF—the Global Biodiversity Information Facility—as a science writer in 2014, moving his wife, three teenagers and two dogs from Charlottesville to Copenhagen. He is now GBIF’s communications manager, leading outreach and engagement with the GBIF network and its stakeholders while also contributing to the ongoing development and improvement of He previously served in several roles with NatureServe, a biodiversity conservation non-profit based outside Washington, D.C., and as communications director for the pioneering architecture and sustainable planning consultancy, William McDonough + Partners.

Trained as a poet, writer and documentary filmmaker, Copas helped produce World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements, an award-winning documentary by Chris Farina that profiles the work of master teacher and noted TED speaker John Hunter. He is a native of Lafayette, Indiana, and a graduate of Wabash College.  

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