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Teaching ornithology


Getting a professorship at Harvard
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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One day I got a telephone call from Professor [Alfred] Romer, the Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, who said would I accept a professorship at Harvard, a permanent one? What a question! So, naturally I was very much interested and… I went after… after I'd gone back to… to New York of course we, my wife and I, we actually drove down from Seattle through the Redwood Groves, all the way down to southern California, where we visited Max Delbrück and other friends. And… then went back home to New York, and Romer came to New York, he had to pass through New York and we met at the railway station, he gave me all the terms of the appointment which were very acceptable to me. And then I went to the director of the American Museum [of Natural History] to give him the bad news and he tried very hard to keep me there, and… ‘What can I offer you?’ And so forth, ‘Well, I'll… I'll top that, I'll give you a thousand dollars more’, and that style. And finally says, ‘Is there anything else that I could do to… ?’ ‘Yes’, I said, ‘take the Museum out of New York City’. I was so tired of New York City. This will hurt you to say that because Walter is a great friend of New York City. Well, anyhow, in due time I went off to… and started my new position at the… at the American… at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. And it was a position as Alexander Agassiz Professor, starting July 1, 1953.

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: Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, New York, Seattle, Redwood Grove, California, American Museum of Natural History, Alexander Agassiz Professor, 01-07-1953, Alfred Romer, Max Delbrück, Walter Rothschild

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008