Patrons of Paleontology: How Government Support Shaped a Science

By Jane P. Davidson | Go to book overview

6
CONCLUSION : THE CHAIN OF
PALEONTOLOGY

In 1880, Canadian paleontologist John W. Dawson wrote a popular book on paleontology called The Chain of Life in Geologic Time. I think that this title is an apt metaphor for what we have covered in the current work concerning the history of how paleontology, geology, and government support “evolved” together from the Early Modern period until the middle of the twentieth century. I think we can compare the current study to the beautifully engraved and hand-colored time line used by William Buckland in the Bridgewater Treatises, wherein the periods of geologic time are “illustrated” with images of various extinct animals and plants that were thought to be typical of the various time periods.1 In the metaphorical sense, our discussions of the various paleontologists and their activities are a time line of the history of patronage. In the case of the history of government support, one does not deal with eons, but one does have a similar chain of results and connections that came to constitute virtually all of the most important paleontological discoveries and to shape the careers of almost every paleontologist who became significant in this field. I was halftempted to include an illustration of a time line with representative government entities and important paleontologists with their discoveries.

In this work, I have tried to outline the chain of paleontological development across a few centuries beginning with the mid-1500s and extending into the middle of the twentieth century. We have demonstrated that the leading paleontologists of their day went routinely to their governments, got their attention, and asked for their money and/or military or logistical support. These requests were at times accompanied by additional requests for venues for publications and for displays in Kunstkamers, and later museums. Eventually, as Lawrence Lambe envisioned in 1911, universities became increasingly involved with support for paleontology. But even then, the professors and museum directors still went to governments for monetary support. Even such an august and presumably well-endowed institution as the American Museum of Natural History occasionally turned to the United States Geological Survey to subvention publications.

The kinds of governmental entities that were involved with paleontology varied across our time line. The nature of their support for paleontology also varied, but once the pattern of support developed, it then persisted and it grew. And while the contents and extent of paleontological research changed and expanded, and technologies and logistics changed, the basics of the connection between the government patron and the paleontologist really did not change. Even today, despite Dawson’s hopeful

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