Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7316
Silberglied, Robert E., 1946-1982
Robert Elliot Silberglied Papers, 1960-1982, with related materials to 1984
Robert E. Silberglied (1946-1982) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. While in high school, he developed an interest in entomology and wrote his first research paper, on Drosophila melanogaster, in 1961. In 1963 he enrolled in the School of Agriculture at Cornell University, where he received the Bachelor of Science degree in 1967 and a Master's degree in 1968. During his years at Cornell, Silberglied's developing interest in evolutionary biology led him to research in insect communication, particularly among butterflies. An early association with Dr. Thomas Eisner and a variety of field work experiences in Mexico, Florida, and Arizona led him to the study of ultraviolet reflection among butterflies, specifically the evolution of reflective patterns and their significance in the process of communication.
Silberglied's research in the field continued when he entered Harvard University to begin his doctoral work in the fall of 1968. At Cambridge, his interests grew as he encountered a number of new work experiences and associations. Field work at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands in 1970 began what would be a long-term commitment to research in neotropical entomology. His initial interest was to study mechanisms of insect pollination of flowers, which led to a broad and valuable survey of the islands' insect fauna. During his work in the Galapagos, he made an extensive collection of specimens and, in the process, acquired a valuable working knowledge of the islands and their literature which would frequently be called upon in future collaborative efforts.
While at Harvard, Silberglied continued his field work in Florida at the Archbold Biological Station, as well as in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, eastern Canada, and Latin America. During this time, his association with Orley R. Taylor, Jr., led Silberglied to a more extensive study of ultraviolet patterns of butterflies through the development of new methods for the visualization and recording of ultraviolet reflection. His work in photographic techniques provided him with a proficiency in optical microscopy that was to be widely recognized alongside his more primary areas of research. Through his work with Taylor, Silberglied was able experimentally to determine how ultraviolet patterns are used as a communications device in some species of the Colias butterfly, for which he was awarded the Ph.D. in 1973.
During his graduate studies at Harvard, Silberglied worked as a teaching fellow from 1968 to 1973. He maintained an active membership in the Cambridge Entomological Society and was elected Vice President in 1969 and President in 1970. This period also saw the first in a long series of scientific publications representing his broadening interests in areas such as mimetic communities, the role of vision in insect behavior, the physiology of vision, ultraviolet patterns of flowers, and the terrestrial invertebrates of the Galapagos Islands. His experience at Harvard also fostered what would be long-term associations with Edward O. Wilson and Frank M. Carpenter, staff members at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ).
Following the completion of his formal training in 1973, Silberglied simultaneously held a number of positions over the next eight years. From 1973 to 1978 he served as an Assistant Professor of Biology at Harvard, teaching courses in various aspects of arthropod biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior. During this same period he worked as Assistant Curator of Lepidoptera in the MCZ Department of Entomology. His primary goals at the MCZ were reorganization of the collections, improved curation methods, and wider utilization of the collections in teaching and research. He was also instrumental in setting up the MCZ Scanning Electron Microscope facility, a project that occupied his energies until 1980.
Silberglied's interest in conservation led him to join the Lignum vitae Key University Council in 1973. Lignum vitae Key in Florida is the only preserve of West Indian lowland hardwood forest remaining in the United States; and for the next eight years Silberglied devoted much of his time and energy to its preservation and management. Silberglied was also involved in a study of the Costa Rican National Park System, and he co-authored (with Thomas Simkin of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History) a computerized bibliography of the Galapagos Islands.
Silberglied also served as a consultant to the Biological Laboratories at Harvard, as a member of the editorial board of Psyche, and as a member of the governing board of the Organization for Tropical Studies. In addition, he served as a contributing reviewer for several non-scientific journals and was an active member of the Entomological Society of America.
In 1976, a new dimension was added to Silberglied's career with his appointment as a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. This position divided his research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities between Cambridge and Panama, as he began spending approximately half of each year in the American tropics. In 1977, Silberglied became a permanent member of the scientific staff at STRI as a Research Entomologist. In the same year, he also received promotions at Harvard becoming an Associate Professor of Biology and the Associate Curator of Lepidoptera at MCZ--positions he would hold until his departure from Cambridge in 1981.
While serving as a staff member at STRI, Silberglied's research interests were expanded. In concert with Dr. Annette Aiello, he conducted experimental work involving a number of behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary problems among many species of tropical insects, especially Lepidoptera. Among other projects, they studied the origin and evolution of reproductive isolating mechanisms and the way in which color and pattern influenced predator-prey relationships and intra- and intersexual communication. The work was greatly enhanced by Silberglied's expertise in ultraviolet photography. Their efforts resulted in several important findings and led to a number of joint publications.
In addition to his research at STRI, Silberglied served on the Smithsonian Fellowship Selection Committee in Tropical Biology and as an advisor to individual students studying at the facility. He was also involved in a variety of administrative responsibilities as Scientist-in-Charge at the Barro Colorado Island research station. While in residence he devoted a considerable portion of his time to drawing up plans for the administration and management of the biological preserve.
Despite a rather full schedule of research, teaching, and administrative activities, Silberglied managed to maintain active membership in a variety of conservation organizations and professional societies. His expertise as an entomologist led to many speaking engagements, and his pioneering efforts in the field of photography led to frequent work as a consultant to cinematographers doing natural history documentary work. Silberglied maintained these diverse interests and enthusiasms until his untimely death in the Air Florida accident in Washington, D.C., on January 13, 1982.
- Born in Brooklyn, New York, June 19
- Received New York State Regents Scholarship
- Entered College of Agriculture, Cornell University
- Appointed part-time Assistant to Curator, Insect Collections, Cornell University
- Member of New York (Brooklyn) Entomological Society
- Member of Cornell University Mexico Field Research Party (with Dr. W. L. Brown, Jr.)
- Ford Three-Year Scholar's Program
- Appointed Field Research Assistant to Dr. Thomas Eisner at Archbold Biological Station in Florida and at Cave Creek Ranch, Portal, Arizona
- Part-time Assistant to Librarian, Entomology Library, Cornell University
- Appointed Field Research Assistant (with D. Simberloff for Dr. E. O. Wilson) in Florida Keys and Arizona
- Received B.S., Cornell University
- Entered Cornell University, Department of Biology as graduate student
- Received M.S., Cornell University
- Entered Harvard University as post-graduate
- Teaching fellowship, Department of Biology, Harvard University
- Member of Cambridge Entomological Society
- Field work at Archbold Biological Station in Florida
- Elected Vice President, Cambridge Entomological Society
- Richmond Fellowship, Harvard University
- Member of Graduate Student Council, Department of Biology, Harvard University
- Elected President, Cambridge Entomological Society
- Field work at Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands
- Field work at the E. N. Huyck Preserve, Albany County, New York
- Field work in Florida, Arizona, and Colorado
- Participated in Organization for Tropical Studies trip to Costa Rica
- Field work in Nova Scotia, Kansas, Colorado, and Arizona
- Received Ph.D., Harvard University
- Field work in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Ecuador
- Published "Ultraviolet Differences Between Sulphur Butterflies"
- Member of Executive Committee, Cambridge Entomological Society
- Member of Library Committee, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
- Assistant Professor of Biology, Harvard University
- Assistant Curator of Lepidoptera, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
- Consultant to the Biological Laboratories Insectary Facility, Harvard University
- Member of Lignum vitae Key (Florida) University Council
- Member of Editorial Board, Psyche
- Field work at Archbold Biological Station in Florida
- Section Vice Chairman, Section A (Systematics, Morphology and Evolution), Entomological Society of America
- Member of Scanning Electron Microscope Committee, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
- Member of Scanning Electron Microscope Facility Committee, Department of Biology, Harvard University 1974-1981 member of Entomological Society of America
- Member of Governing Board, Organization for Tropical Studies (representing Harvard University)
- Field work in Panama
- Participated in a safari to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania
- Served on Program Evaluation Committee, Section A (Systematics, Morphology and Evolution), Entomological Society of America
- Section Chairman, Section A (Systematics, Morphology and Evolution), Entomological Society of America
- Contributing reviewer for American Reference Book Annual
- Appointed Biologist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)
- Member of Nominating Committee and Special Constitution and By-laws Revision Committee, Section A (Systematics, Morphology and Evolution), Entomological Society of America
- Organized and administered Natural History Seminar series of Department of Biology, Harvard University
- Member of Education Committee, Organization for Tropical Studies
- Field work in Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia
- Published "Communication in the Lepidoptera"
- Member of Committee on Meeting Dates, Section A (Systematics, Morphology and Evolution), Entomological Society of America
- Member of Executive Committee, Organization for Tropical Studies
- Contributing reviewer forLibrary Journal
- Staff Scientist (Research Entomologist), STRI
- Field work in the Dominican Republic published "Ultraviolet Reflection and its Behavioral Role in the Courtship of the Sulfur Butterflies Colias eurytheme and C. philodice"
- Contributing reviewer for Reprint Bulletin, Book Reviews
- Associate Professor of Biology, Harvard University
- Hessel Associate Curator of Lepidoptera, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
- Scientist-in-Charge, Barro Colorado Island research station, STRI
- Published "Communications in the Ultraviolet"
- Field work in Colombia
- Guest speaker at the Royal Entomological Society International Symposium on the Biology of Butterflies, Reading, England
- Member of Executive Council, Lepidopterists' Society
- Died in Washington, D.C., January 13
- Posthumously published "Visual Communication and Sexual Selection Among Butterflies"
The papers of Robert E. Silberglied provide comprehensive documentation of his professional career. They include materials relating to his initial interest in entomology; his academic training; his teaching career at Harvard University; his duties as a staff member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI); his efforts as a conservationist; and his research on Lepidoptera. Also included, to a lesser extent, are records documenting his personal affairs.
All aspects of Silberglied's professional life are documented in a large file of correspondence carried on between 1964 and 1982. Particularly well represented are his dual careers at Harvard University and STRI; the development of his research interests; participation in professional activities; and the preparation and publication of scientific manuscripts. The correspondence also includes many letters exchanged with his parents, family members, and friends.
Silberglied's academic career at Cornell University and Harvard University receives extensive coverage in the collection. Included are class notes; personal diaries and daily calendars which document class schedules, student activities, and travel; registration and admission records; and copies of his M.A. thesis and Ph.D. dissertation. Also included are research papers, notes, collecting records, and related materials illustrating Silberglied's interest in entomology as a high school student.
Silberglied's teaching and administrative activities at Harvard University and his work as a staff member at STRI are documented by a wide variety of materials. Records concerning his Harvard appointment include lecture notes, examinations, and evaluations from several courses he taught; files relating to his curatorial duties at the Museum of Comparative Zoology--especially work on the Scanning Electron Microscope Laboratory; and materials relating to committees, student advising, grants and financial matters, and job negotiations and promotions. His six-year association with STRI is documented by correspondence, memoranda, and related materials concerning various administrative and research activities--particularly the management of the Barro Colorado Island research station.
The collection is extremely valuable in documenting Silberglied's diverse research interests and his participation in professional activities. His efforts in the fields of entomology, evolutionary theory, ultraviolet photography, and conservation are illustrated by drafts of research papers, research proposals, notes, and various forms of scientific data.
Also included are photographs and films, mostly of or relating to butterflies; reprints of his publications; and copies of speeches and lectures presented at professional meetings and to popular audiences. Field notes document extensive research in the Galapagos Islands, Lignum vitae Key (Florida), and various regions of the United States and Central America. Also, Silberglied's correspondence contains a continuous exchange of ideas and information with colleagues throughout the entomological community.
In addition to correspondence with family and friends, Silberglied's personal affairs are documented in a group of collected materials including diaries and daily calendars; health records; his professional dossier; records concerning income taxes, selective service status, and personal property; and similar materials. A small group of photographs of Silberglied, family members, and friends is also found in the collection.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Silberglied, Robert E., 1946-1982
- Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
- Harvard University
- Harvard University. Museum of Comparative Zoology
- Cornell University
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
- Motion pictures (visual works)
- Field notes
- Black-and-white photographs
- Black-and-white negatives
- Serials (publications)
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7316, Robert Elliot Silberglied Papers