"The Feathery Tribe" by Daniel Lewis

The Feathery Tribe Robert Ridgway and the Modern Study of Birds Daniel Lewis

Publication date:
24 Apr 2012
Yale University Press
368 pages: 235 x 156 x 25mm
20 b-w illlus.
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For many years, ornithology was the province of the wealthy gentleman hunter who shot, stuffed, and preserved his specimens, and of the museum that collected simply to document natural history, not to analyze it. Even as evolutionary theory began to make its mark on the study of birds, it remained a science heavily populated by amateurs. Daniel Lewis here explores the professionalization of ornithology through one of its key figures: Robert Ridgway, the Smithsonian Institution's first curator of birds and one of North America's most important natural scientists.

Exploring a world in which the divisions of status, rigour, and publication between amateurs and professionals were far more blurred than the worlds that appear in most histories of science, Daniel Lewis offers a vivid introduction to Ridgway and shows how his work had a larger international context that influenced the evolution of American ornithology.

Daniel Lewis is the Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science and Technology and the Chief Curator of Manuscripts at The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. He lives in Pasadena.

"This book does an excellent job of underlining the lasting value of Ridgway's work and those of his colleagues and rivals, and they form the basis of just about every aspect of modern bird study."—Martin Collinson, Birdwatch

"Lewis weaves the story of Robert Ridgway and his ornithological career expertly through the historical context of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the emergence of modern ornithology. The book is full of interesting historical tidbits. . . This book belongs in every academic and museum library and should appeal to anyone with an interest in the historical roots of modern ornithology." —William E. Davis, American Ornithologist's Union

"This is a welcome and thoroughly researched contribution to the history of ornithology in North America." —Richard Mearns, British Ornithologist's Union

"Lewis's account draws deeply and meticulously from a vast assortment of primary sources. As a museum curator himself, he insightfully highlights the values of objects—that is, the mortal remains of birds—as vital sources and the history and values of natural history museum. Lewis's voice is enthusiastic, straightforward, and sometimes even playful."—Julianne Lutz Warren, Environmental History

The Feathery Tribe introduces an important scientist along with his professional coterie and their struggles to establish ornithology in America . . . Lewis demonstrates the considerable value of scientific biography as historians continue to explore the significance of the field sciences to the history of science.”—Frederick R. Davis, Isis