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The Feathery Tribe [Kindle Edition]

Daniel Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Amateurs and professionals studying birds at the end of the nineteenth century were a contentious, passionate group with goals that intersected, collided and occasionally merged in their writings and organizations. Driven by a desire to advance science, as well as by ego, pride, honor, insecurity, religion and other clashing sensibilities, they struggled to absorb the implications of evolution after Darwin. In the process, they dramatically reshaped the study of birds.


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 uses of language, classification and accountability between amateurs and professionals played essential roles, Lewis offers a vivid introduction to Ridgway and shows how his work fundamentally influenced the direction of American and international ornithology. He explores the inner workings of the Smithsonian and the role of collectors working in the field and reveals previously unknown details of the ornithological journal The Auk and the untold story of the color dictionaries for which Ridgway is known.

Editorial Reviews


"Lewis's masterful biography of Ridgway gives us insight into what it meant to be a biologist in the late 19th century. It fills a critical gap in our understanding of the emergence of the life sciences and the nature of the scientific profession."--Paul Farber, author of Discovering Birds and Finding Order in Nature

"The roots of all American bird enthusiasts trace squarely back to Robert Ridgway, and Lewis's account of Ridgway and the emergence of a modern ornithology in North America resonates and fascinates."--Kimball L. Garrett, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

"A major contribution to the history of natural history, history of museums, history of American science, as well as history of ornithology.... sets a fine standard for biographies that move beyond a narrative into analysis of intellectual and social currents in the field."--Pamela Henson, American University

"Deftly presented and deeply researched, The Feathery Tribe... fills an important gap in our understanding of the development of modern bird study, while restoring Ridgway to his rightful place of honor among the pantheon of American naturalists."--Mark V. Barrow, Jr., Virginia Tech

"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
(Martin Collinson Birdwatch 2012-09-01)

"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
(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
(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
(Julianne Lutz Warren Environmental History 2013-07-01)

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
(Frederick R. Davis Isis)

About the Author

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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2902 KB
  • Print Length: 369 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0300175523
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 24, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007P2WYW8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,717,417 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Soaring Tribute May 1, 2013
This book gives long due tribute to the shy, impassioned man, the Smithsonian's first curator of birds, who was so instrumental to the emergence of professional ornithology. It does so as it masterfully explores the history of that science. It also helps us better understand how science is practiced today, including tensions between indoor and outdoor work. Lewis helps us to appreciate what it took for bird-lovers to cross the bridge from old school natural history, suffused with belief in the immutability of species, to Darwinian evolutionary theory. He makes us appreciate the massive amount of exhausting, meticulous work that went into classification and clarifying names of species at this crossroads. One of the other aspects I loved about this book is how it deepened my interest in the values of objects--in this case, the mortal remains of birds--as vital sources and the history and values of natural history museums. In addition to major works of bird classification and nomenclature of North American birds, Ridgway also crafted a fascinating volume on color-classification, all of which have had and continue to have wide-reaching influence in modern ornithology and other fields as well. As not only a scholar, but also a birder, this book has enriched my own passions.
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More About the Author

I'm a native of Hawaii, now living and working full-time in Southern California as the Chief Curator of Manuscripts at the Huntington Library. I also hold an endowed position as the Dibner Senior Curator for the History of Science and Technology at the Huntington. I've had an engrossing career as a curator, archivist, teacher, and writer.

I have a Ph.D. in History from the University of California (Riverside), and have had post-doctoral appointments at Oxford University and the Smithsonian. I'm on the faculty at the University of Southern California, where I intermittently teach courses on the history of evolution and the biological sciences. I'm also an Associate Research Professor at Claremont Graduate University here in Southern California, where I teach courses in archival studies and research methologies, manage the department's archival internship program, and drink a great deal of coffee.

I have a tremendous drive to research and write these days, and one of my greatest pleasures is spending time in archives around the world looking for grist for my writing mill, so to speak. My current project relates to the environmental history of endangerment and extinction in Hawaiian birds, told in five species.


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