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  • Cultures of Collection in

    Late Nineteenth Century American Natural History

    by

    Matthew Laubacher

    A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment

    of the Requirements for the Degree

    Doctor of Philosophy

    Approved April 2011 by the

    Graduate Supervisory Committee

    Monica Green, Co-Chair

    Manfred Laubichler, Co-Chair

    Kent Wright

    ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

    May 2011

  • ABSTRACT

    Natural history is, and was, dependent upon the collection of specimens.

    In the nineteenth century, American naturalists and institutions of natural history

    cultivated and maintained extensive collection networks comprised of numerous

    collectors that provided objects of natural history for study. Effective networks

    were collaborative in nature, with naturalists such as Spencer Baird of the

    Smithsonian trading their time and expertise for specimens. The incorporation of

    Darwinian and Neo-Lamarckian evolutionary theory into natural history in the

    middle of the century led to dramatic changes in the relationship between

    naturalists and collectors, as naturalists sought to reconcile their observations

    within the new evolutionary context.

    This dissertation uses the careers of collectors Robert Kennicott, Frank

    Stephens, Edward W. Nelson, E.A. Goldman, and Edmund Heller as case studies

    in order to evaluate how the changes in the theoretical framework of late

    nineteenth century natural history led to advances in field practice by assessing

    how naturalists trained their collectors to meet new demands within the field.

    Research focused on the correspondence between naturalists and collectors, along

    with the field notes and applicable publications by collectors.

    I argue that the changes in natural history necessitated naturalists training

    their collectors in the basics of biogeography – the study of geographic

    distribution of organisms, and systematics – the study of the diversity of life –

    leading to a collaborative relationship in which collectors played an active role in

    the formation of new biological knowledge. The project concludes that the

  • ii

    changes in natural history with regard to theory and practice gradually

    necessitated a more professional cadre of collectors. Collectors became active

    agents in the formation of biological knowledge, and instrumental in the

    formation of a truly systematic natural history. As a result, collectors became de

    facto field naturalists, the forerunners of the field biologists that dominated the

    practice of natural history in the early and middle twentieth century.

  • iii

    For my Family

  • iv

    Acknowledgements

    I would like to thank my professors at Arizona State for their help in

    shaping my scholastic and professional career. Most notably, I must thank my

    committee members Dr. Monica Green, Manfred Laubichler, and Kent Wright.

    This project would never have been finished without their dedication and

    continuous support through my graduate experience.

    I would also like to thank the archivists and support staff at each of the

    repositories that I used for my research: Eileen Mathias and Clare Flemming of

    the Academy of Natural Sciences, Karen Klitz of the Museum of Vertebrate

    Zoology, David Kessler of the Bancroft Library, and Margaret Dykens of the San

    Diego Natural History Museum. Most of all, however, I must thank Dr. Pamela

    Henson, Courtney Esposito, Ellen V. Alers, Tad Bennicoff, and Mary Markey of

    the Smithsonian Institution for their continued help throughout the research and

    writing process.

    Financial support for research is incredibly important to doctoral research.

    I must therefore thank the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science and

    the Smithsonian Institution, who generously supported my archival research with

    doctoral improvement fellowships. Generous grants from Arizona State

    University helped both defray research costs as well as provided support for the

    writing process. I should also thank the History of Science Society for a travel

    grant that allowed me to present my findings on Kennicott and the Hudson‘s Bay

    Company at the 2010 annual meeting in Montreal, Canada.

  • v

    I would also like the opportunity to thank other scholars such as Drs.

    Debra Lindsay, Jane Maienschein, Robert Kohler, Andrew Hamilton, Matt Chew,

    and John Lynch for their honest insight and feedback regarding the history of

    science generally, and the history of natural history specifically. A special thank

    you for my fellow research fellows at the Smithsonian, Ginger Myhaver, Robin

    Scheffler, and Nancy Bercaw; our discussions and debates over lunch, drinks, and

    research were extremely helpful with regard to shaping and framing the project.

    Finally, I would like to thank my family, especially my wife, Jackie. We

    were crazy enough to start raise a family while both completing our dissertations,

    but we both managed to finish. I would also like to thank our children, Antonio,

    Dominick, and Markus for putting up with us as we frantically worked over the

    past few years. We have enjoyed the wonderful support of my in-laws: Mark

    Ryan, Clara Rojas, and Nick, Kathy, Melanie and Gerard Rodriquez which has

    proved invaluable for our sanity. Lastly, I offer my most heartfelt thanks to my

    mother Carol, my father George, and my brother Joshua for their constant

    encouragement and dedication to my educational success.

  • vi

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................1

    CHAPTER 1: A ―GOLDEN AGE‖ ...........................................................................28

    Spencer Baird and the Onset of the ―Golden Age‖ ........................................32

    Practice of Natural History ...........................................................................37

    Systematic Biogeography ..............................................................................44

    Debate over Practice: Baird and the Lazzaroni ..............................................47

    Changes in Collection ...................................................................................50

    The Priority of Priority ..................................................................................57

    Three Collection Strategies from an Institutional Level ................................61

    Logistics .........................................................................................................70

    Impact of Evolutionary Theory and the Development of Evolutionary ........73

    Field Notes and Professionalization...............................................................84

    Cultural Impact of Natural History ................................................................88

    Assessing Merriam‘s Impact..........................................................................94

    The End of the Golden Age? .........................................................................100

    Case Studies ...................................................................................................101

    CHAPTER 2: COLLECTION AS COLLABORATION: SPENCER BAIRD

    AND ROBERT KENNICOTT ......................................................................103

    CHAPTER 3: FRANK STEPHENS: FROM AMATEUR COLLECTOR TO

    LOCAL EXPERT ..........................................................................................179

    CHAPTER 4: THE CAREER OF EDWARD W. NELSON AND THE

    TRAINING OF E.A. GOLDMAN ................................................................250

  • vii

    AFTERWORD ...........................................................................................................313

    BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................336

  • 1

    Introduction:

    In a passionate essay in the spring of 1893, C. Hart Merriam lamented the

    lack of emphasis at the collegiate level of a unified, ―more liberal‖ biology that

    included instruction in natural history. 1 Merriam was one of many naturalists

    who systematically recorded, catalogued, and collected biological specimens in

    America in the second half of the nineteenth century. His primary concern was

    that the lack of instruction in natural history would lead to a dearth of experienced

    and qualified specimen collectors, adversely affecting the study of natural history,

    which was predicated on the collection of specimens for study. As director of the

    Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy (later the United States

    Biological Survey, [USBS]) within the United States Department of Agriculture,

    Merriam had a vested interest in the training of new collectors; he oversaw a vast

    collection network that included individual speci

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