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September 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.

September 3

1603: JOHN JONSTON is born at Sambter, Poland. Jonston will travel widely as a scholar and physician, and will study at universities in England, Scotland, Germany and the Netherlands. He will publish extensively on many subjects, but will be best remembered for his encyclopedic works on natural history.

1704: JOSEPH DE JUSSIEU is born at Lyon, France. Member of a distinguished family of botanists, Jussieu will travel to South America as a physician with the French navy in 1735. Although he will attempt to return to France at the conclusion of the voyage, financial difficulties and medical emergencies will keep him in South America, and he will spend the next 36 years exploring the continent. He will investigate the botanical sources of quinine and cinnamon, examine the Huancavelica mercury mines and the Potosí silver mines, and collect birds at Lake Titicaca. Returning at last to France in 1771, he will spend the final years of his life in sickness and depression.

1801: CHRISTIAN ERICH HERMANN VON MEYER is born at Frankfurt, Germany. The son of a Frankfurt lawyer, Meyer will work for the greater part of his life in the disparate fields of finance and paleontology. Study at Berlin, Munich, and Heidelberg will bring him into contact with many of the leading scientists of his day, and he will quickly become known as a skillful paleontologist. Starting in 1837, however, he will make his living in the government financial service, turning down a professorship at Göttingen in order to maintain his academic independence. In 1846 with Wilhelm Duncker he will found the journal Palaeontographica, and in subsequent years that journal will publish many of his researches on fossil vertebrates.

1993: DARWIN-L, an interdisciplinary discussion group for professionals in the historical sciences, is opened to the public. Administered by Robert O’Hara, Darwin-L will generate thousands of messages over the next five years and will come to have more than 600 members from 30 countries. O’Hara will be very grateful to all of the group’s members for their many contributions and for their interest in the comparative study of the historical sciences.

September 7

1707: GEORGES-LOUIS LECLERC, later COMTE de BUFFON, is born at Montbard, France. He will become one of the most important scientific figures of 18th century France, doing work in optics, chemistry, mathematics, botany, and geology, and publishing the encyclopedic Histoire Naturelle in 36 volumes beginning in 1749. Convinced that the earth began in a molten state, Buffon will conduct experiments on the cooling of spheres of various sizes in an attempt to estimate its age. In Époques de la Nature (1779) he will propose 75,000 years as the age of the earth, but in his private manuscripts he will revise this to a more daring 3,000,000 years.

September 11

1522: ULISSE ALDROVANDI born at Bologna, Italy, to noble parents. After studying medicine and mathematics at Padua, he will take a teaching position in Bologna and establish a natural history collection and a botanical garden there. A paradigmatic “Renaissance man,” Aldrovandi will be best remembered for his encyclopedic works in Latin on birds, fishes, insects, and metals.

September 12

1605: WILLIAM DUGDALE is born at Shustoke, England, “at which time there was a swarm of bees in his father’s garden, then esteemed by some a happy presage on the behalf of the babe.” In his youth Dugdale will join a circle of men interested in British antiquities, including William Burton, Symon Archer, and Roger Dodsworth, and his studies will win for him in 1639 the position of Rouge Croix Pursuivant in the College of Heralds. He will rise through the ranks of the College to become Garter King-of-Arms in 1677. Dugdale’s extensive surveys of the history of British monasteries, legal traditions, monuments, and arms will set a new standard for British historiography, and his Antiquities of Warwickshire, Illustrated; From Records, Leiger Books, Manuscripts, Charters, Evidences, Tombs, and Armes: Beautified with Maps, Prospects, and Portraictures (1656) will become a standard work by which all subsequent county histories will be judged.

September 14

1769: FRIEDRICH WILHELM HEINRICH ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT is born at Berlin, Germany. He will become one of the most wide-ranging and celebrated scientists of his day, best known for his work in geography, particularly Kosmos (1845–1862). His older brother Wilhelm will become a linguist and a founder of the University of Berlin.

1791: FRANZ BOPP is born at Mainz. He will become one of the founders of comparative linguistics, and will publish beginning in 1833 Vergleichende Grammatik des Sanskrit, Zend, Griechischen, Lateinischen, Littauischen, Gothischen und Deutschen, the first comprehensive comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages.

September 16

1725: NICOLAS DESMAREST is born at Soulaines-Dhuys, France. He will study the prismatic basalt formations of Auvergne in central France, and will realize in 1763 that they are of volcanic origin.

September 20

1811: PYOTR SIMON PALLAS dies at Berlin, Germany. A natural historian and geographer of great breadth, Pallas had spent most of his life in Russia, and had investigated topics as diverse as the systematics of corals (Elenchus Zoophytorum, 1766), the formation of mountain ranges (1777), animal variation (1780), and phytogeography (Flora Rossia, 1784–1788).

1863: JACOB (LUDWIG CARL) GRIMM dies. With his brother Wilhelm Carl, Jacob Grimm will be remembered as one of the founders of comparative Indo-European philology. Together they edited collections of fairy tales (1812–1815), and Jacob produced one of the earliest comprehensive works on comparative grammar (Deutsche Grammatik, 1819–1837). In 1822 Jacob will characterize what is today known as Grimm’s law, the regular pattern of consonantal replacement (the replacement of ‘p’ by ‘f’, for example) that occurred during the history of the Indo-European languages.

September 22

1711: THOMAS WRIGHT, author of An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe, Founded upon the Laws of Nature, and Solving by Mathematical Principles the General Phaenomena of the Visible Creation; and Particularly the Via Lactea, is born at Byers Green, near Durham, England. In his contemplation of cosmological time he will write: “In this great Celestial Creation, the Catastrophe of a World, such as ours, or even the total Dissolution of a System of Worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common Accident in Life with us, and in all Probability such final and general Doom-Days may be as frequent there, as even Birth-Days, or Mortality with us upon the Earth.”

September 24

1802: ETIENNE-JULES-ADOLPHE, DESMIER DE SAINT-SIMON, VICOMTE D’ARCHIAC, geologist and paleontologist, born at Rheims, France. Following a period of military service he will become one of the foremost stratigraphers of Europe, and will publish a major history of early nineteenth-century geology (Histoire des Progrès de la Géologie de 1834 à 1845, 1847–1860). At first critical of evolutionary ideas, d’Archiac will eventually come to accept the theory of descent, recognizing that “The present state of the earth is only the consequence of its past—and that holds true for the organic as well as the inorganic realm” (Géologie et Paléontologie, 1866). While in the midst of a severe depression he will commit suicide by throwing himself into the Seine on Christmas Eve, 1868.

September 25

1749: ABRAHAM GOTTLOB WERNER is born at Wehrau, Upper Lusatia (now Osiecznica, Poland). Werner’s father was inspector of the ironworks in Wehrau and Lorenzdorf, and Abraham will develop an early interest in mineralogy. Following study of law and the history of language at Leipzig, he will become curator of the mineral collections and a teacher of mining at the Bergakademie Freiberg which, under his influence, will become one of the most prominent schools of geology in Europe. As one of the first geologists to distinguish minerals from rocks and to use the sequence of rocks to reconstruct the history of the earth, Werner will be remembered as one of the founding figures of historical geology.

1798: JEAN-BAPTISTE-ARMAND-LOUIS-LEONCE ELIE DE BEAUMONT is born at Canon, Calvados, France. A mining engineer and geologist, he will publish in 1841, with Armand Dufrenoy, Carte Géologique Générale de la France, the first detailed geologic map of France.

September 26

1687: During the Venetian seige of Athens a bomb falls on the Parthenon, which is being used by the Turks for munitions storage. The roof, parts of the frieze, and many of the columns, which had lasted for more than two thousand years, are destroyed.

September 27

1715: THOMAS BURNET, author of Telluris Theoria Sacra or The Theory of the Earth: Containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and of All the General Changes Which it Hath Already Undergone, or is to Undergo Till the Consummation of All Things, dies. Burnet advocated in graceful prose a cyclical theory of the universe, which he thought had begun in perfection and had fallen, but which would be restored again at the end of all things: “The Scheme of this World passeth away, saith an holy Author; the mode and form, both of the Natural and Civil World, changeth continually more or less, but most remarkably at certain Periods, when all Nature puts on another face; as it will do at the Conflagration, and hath done already from the time of the Deluge.”


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