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November in the Historical Sciences

A calendar of anniversaries in the palaetiological sciences of evolutionary biology, systematics, historical linguistics, text transmission, historical geology, paleontology, genealogy, archeology, anthropology, cosmology, historical geography, and related fields, from the Darwin-L Archives on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

November 1

1793: JOHANN FRIEDRICH ESCHSCHOLTZ is born at Dorpat, now Tartu, Estonia. Following education at Dorpat University, Eschscholtz will serve as naturalist and physician on Kotzebue’s voyages around the world from 1815 to 1818. His specimens from the voyage will be given to Dorpat University, and he will become curator of the Dorpat zoological collections in 1822.

1880: ALFRED LOTHAR WEGENER is born in Berlin. In 1912 he will read a paper titled “Die Herausbildung der Grossformen der Erdrinde (Kontinente und Ozeane) auf geophysikalischer Grundlage” (“The geophysical basis of the evolution of large-scale features of the earth’s crust”) before the Geological Association of Frankfurt am Main. It will be expanded in 1915 into Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane (The Origin of Continents and Oceans), the first comprehensive account of the theory of continental drift. On this day in 1930, his fiftieth birthday, while on an expedition to Greenland, Wegener will leave his base camp for the western coast and will not be seen again.

November 7

1817: JEAN ANDRE DELUC dies at Windsor, England. Born in Geneva in 1727, Deluc had emigrated to England following a business failure in 1773. A Biblical geologist, he published many works that attempted to demonstrate “the conformity of geological monuments with the sublime account of that series of the operations which took place during the Six days, or periods of time, recorded by the inspired penman.”

1913: ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE dies at Broadstone, Dorset, England. Co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the principle of natural selection, Wallace had been an extensive traveller and a prolific writer on topics ranging from evolution and spiritualism to astronomy and vaccination. His most enduring work will be his several volumes on historical biogeography: “If we take the organic productions of a small island, or of any very limited tract of country, such as a moderate-sized country parish, we have, in their relations and affinities—in the fact that they are there and others are not there, a problem which involves all the migrations of these species and their ancestral forms—all the vicissitudes of climate and all the changes of sea and land which have affected those migrations—the whole series of actions and reactions which have determined the preservation of some forms and the extinction of others,—in fact the whole history of the earth, inorganic and organic, throughout a large portion of geological time.”

November 9

1623: WILLIAM CAMDEN dies. Camden studied at St. Paul’s School and at Oxford University, where his interest in antiquities began to develop and where he later endowed the first professorship in history at an English university. Following the example of an earlier generation of continental European antiquarians, Camden spent much of his life travelling widely in the British Isles collecting and describing Roman remains, transcribing inscriptions, and searching through ecclesiastical and public archives. The product of his labors, Britannia (London, 1586), was the first comprehensive historical and topographical survey of British antiquities, and it established a new standard of scholarship for an entire generation of British historians.

November 14

1797: CHARLES LYELL is born at Kinnordy, Forfarshire, Scotland. After making preparations for a career in law, Lyell’s interests will turn increasingly toward geology, and his Principles of Geology (1830–1833) will become one of the foundational works on the historical sciences published during the nineteenth century:

When we study history, we obtain a more profound insight into human nature, by instituting a comparison between the present and former states of society. We trace the long series of events which have gradually led to the actual posture of affairs; and by connecting effects with their causes, we are enabled to classify and retain in the memory a multitude of complicated relations—the various peculiarities of national character—the different degrees of moral and intellectual refinement, and numerous other circumstances, which, without historical associations, would be uninteresting or imperfectly understood. As the present condition of nations is the result of many antecedent changes, some extremely remote and others recent, some gradual, others sudden and violent, so the state of the natural world is the result of a long succession of events, and if we would enlarge our experience of the present economy of nature, we must investigate the effects of her operations in former epochs.

November 21

1881: AMI BOUE dies at Voslau, Austria. Born in Hamburg in 1794, Boue had declined to enter his family’s shipping business and had instead emigrated to Scotland at the age of twenty. He studied geology, botany, and medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and eventually returned to the Continent where he participated in the founding of the Société Géologique de France in 1830.

November 22

1787: RASMUS KRISTIAN RASK is born at Braendekilde, Denmark. Following two years of study in Iceland, Rask will publish Undersogelse om det gamle Nordiske eller Islandske Sprogs Oprindelse (Investigation on the Origin of the Old Norse or Icelandic Language, 1818), which will demonstrate the relationship of the Scandinavian languages to Latin and Greek. He will later bring the Celtic languages into the Indo-European family, and will recognize that Basque and Finno-Ugaric are independent of this group. Rask will master more than 25 languages by the time of his death in 1832, and he will be remembered as one of the founders of comparative Indo-European linguistics.

November 23

1553/1616: PROSPERO ALPINI, botanist and physician, is born at Marostica, Italy; he will die on this day at Padua in 1616. One of the first European physicians to study plants in a non-medicinal context, Alpini will travel to Egypt and Crete, and will publish the first description of the Egyptian flora, De Plantis Aegypti (1592). In 1603 Alpini will assume the directorship of the botanical garden at the University of Padua; his son, Alpino, will succeed him in this position after Alpini’s death.

November 25

1690: EDWARD LHWYD, pioneering antiquarian and student of dialect history, writes from Oxford to his friend and colleague JOHN RAY at Black Notley:

Considering your local words since I read your letter, I find some amongst the north-country words to bear affinity with the Welsh, both in sound and signification, which possibly may be some remains of the British tongue continued still in the mountainous parts of the north. Of these, if you please, I shall hereafter send you a catalogue; but in the mean time I must confess, that although they may agree in sound and sense, it will be difficult to distinguish whether they have been formerly borrowed from the Britons, or whether they are only an argument that the ancient British language had much affinity with those of Germany, Denmark, &c. I omit the supposition of the Welsh borrowing them from the English, in regard I find them not (at least but very few of them) used by the borderers of both nations; and the Britons might leave them in Westmoreland, Cumberland, &c., having heretofore lived there; but the English of those parts could communicate nothing of their language to the Welsh, in regard they have never lived in Wales nor have bordered on them. Moreover, some of these words are in the ‘Armorican Lexicon,’ and the Britons that went to Armorica left this country before the Saxons came in.

November 28

1876: KARL ERNST VON BAER dies at Dorpat (now Tartu), Estonia. Though he will be best remembered for his work on embryology conducted while a professor at the University of Konigsberg, von Baer ranged widely through natural history and related fields. Moving from Konigsberg to St. Petersburg in 1834, he held various offices in the Russian Academy of Sciences, and contributed to the founding of the Russian Geographical Society and the Russian Entomological Society. In addition to his many publications in comparative anatomy and embryology, von Baer wrote extensively on anthropological, ethnographic, and even archeological subjects, such as the manufacture of bronze and the itinerary of Odysseus.

November 29

1627: JOHN RAY is born at Black Notley, Essex, England. He will attend Trinity College, Cambridge, and will become one of the leading naturalists and antiquarians of his generation. Ray’s earliest works will be in botany, and his catalog Cambridge plants, Catalogus Plantarum Circa Cantabrigiam Nascentium (1660), will set a standard for local floras. He will be best remembered for his influential volume on natural theology, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation (1691), but Ray will span the entire range of historical inquiry from the creation of the world in Miscellaneous Discourses Concerning the Dissolution and Changes of the World Wherein the Primitive Chaos and Creation, the General Deluge, Fountains, Formed Stones, Sea-Shells Found in the Earth, Subterraneous Trees, Mountains, Earthquakes, Vulcanoes, the Universal Conflagration and Further State, are Largely Discussed and Examined (1692), to the history and geography of the English language in A Collection of English Words Not Generally Used, With Their Significations and Original, in Two Alphabetical Catalogues, the One of Such as are Proper to the Northern, the Other to the Southern Counties (second edition, 1691).


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