a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


I retire as director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology


The biology department at Harvard
Ernst Mayr Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I tried to get a much closer cooperation with the biology department. There was, sort of… a fight going on between the two of us which at first was not too successful because it was the period when the molecular biologists tried to take over biology at Harvard… as a matter of fact did take over the biology at Harvard. And, for instance, eight positions that became vacated at that time in the biology department, seven were filled with molecular biologists, so that whole fields of biology were no longer represented in the biology department. I shall not give the whole history how this was changed, but at any rate, the students made a petition to the Dean and the President, to restore some biology and after the Dean had looked into the situation he divided the biology department into three parts: organismic evolutionary biology, cellular developmental biology, and molecular biology. And the most important regulation was that all replacements in any of the three could be voted on only by the members of the department. So, the molecular biologists could no longer take away any… any more positions in organismic biology. Now, when after this was done the cooperation with the biology department was… was almost perfect, in fact, people went back and forth as… as if it was one single institution.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: Harvard University

Duration: 1 minute, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008