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My first expedition: New Guinea


Rensch's influence. Working in the library and department of Entomology
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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Professor [Bernhard] Rensch influenced me a great deal because I talked with him about these matters and in his book he raised all the problems that would... or at least most of the problems that would occupy my mind in the later years. However, after a while, after I'd gone to America we drifted apart because he developed a number of ideas, as I shall come back to, that were in complete conflict with my own ideas. There were a number of other people at the [Berlin] Museum with whom I had contact and I might emphasise that I was employed as an assistant to the Museum, not an assistant in ornithology. And actually I was assigned to the library and I had to supervise the... all the acquisition of new books and the subscribing to new journals and all this sort of thing. And I was also told to work in another department of the Museum, in this case it was the department of entomology where I was working on beetles in order to learn something about a group of organisms different from the birds that I was up to that time acquainted with. And that occupied me for the next year and a half until I went off on my first expedition.

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: USA, Berlin Museum, Bernhard Rensch

Duration: 1 minute, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008