Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7318
Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur), 1902-2000
G. Arthur Cooper Papers, 1923-1993 and undated,with material from 1878 to 1892
G. Arthur Cooper (1902- ), paleobiologist emeritus at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), distinguished himself as an authority on the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. He first developed an interest in natural history by collecting insects and minerals during his childhood in New York. During his adolescence his interest in minerals grew, and he received his B.S. degree in chemistry with a minor in geology from Colgate University in 1924. Cooper continued research on stratigraphy of upper New York state and was awarded the M.S. degree from Colgate University in 1926 on the merits of this work. Cooper continued his graduate studies at Yale University under Carl O. Dunbar and Charles Schuchert. Under Schuchert's direction, he began his study of fossil brachiopods, an interest he maintained throughout his career. He received his Ph.D. in 1929, focusing on the stratigraphy of the Hamilton formation. While at Yale, he also served as assistant curator, 1928-1929, and research associate, 1929-1930, in the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Cooper came to the Smithsonian in 1930 as assistant curator in the Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology of the United States National Museum (USNM). In 1941, he advanced to associate curator and in 1944 to curator of the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology. He was appointed head curator of the Department of Geology in 1957, and oversaw its division into the separate departments of Paleobiology and Mineral Sciences in 1963. He continued as chairman of the Department of Paleobiology through 1967 when he was appointed senior paleobiologist. After his retirement from federal service in 1974, he continued his research at the Smithsonian as paleobiologist emeritus until 1987.
During his years as an administrator, the paleobiology staff grew from two in 1944 to twenty in 1967 as Cooper sought to fill gaps of coverage in the department. Cooper was also the motivating force behind the split of the Department of Geology into two separate departments in 1963. By implementing these changes he stimulated growth and focused research on paleobiology. He also involved himself in space planning and supervision of the move into the new wings of the Natural History Building in 1963-1965.
Cooper is well known for his research on the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. His major monographs include: Ozarkian and Canadian Brachiopoda (1938 with E. O. Ulrich), Chazyan and Related Brachiopods (1956), Morphology, Classification, and Life Habits of Productoids (Brachiopoda) (1960 with Helen M. Muir-Wood), and Permian Brachiopods of West Texas, vols. 1-6 (1969-1977 with Richard E. Grant). Throughout his career, he conducted extensive field work in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, significantly increasing both the range and depth of the national collections. Under his guidance, an acid-etching laboratory was established for work with silicified fossils, notably Permian brachiopods from the Glass Mountains of Texas. He also developed his own photographic laboratory, where he produced over fifty thousand images from the collections. Many honors have been presented to Cooper over the years, including the Mary Clark Thompson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, 1958; the Paleontological Society Medal, 1964; the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, 1979; the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America, 1983; and the James Hall Medal of the New York State Geological Survey, 1986.
- Born in College Point, Long Island, N.Y., February 9
- B.S. degree, Phi Beta Kappa, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York
- M.S. degree, Colgate University
- Research assistant, invertebrate paleontology, Yale University
- Field work on Devonian stratigraphy of Hamilton Group of New York
- Ph.D., Yale University
- Research associate, invertebrate paleontology, Yale University
- Field work with Charles Schuchert, Gaspe, Quebec
- 1930 Married Josephine P. Wells
- Assistant curator, USNM, Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology
- Assistant curator, USNM, Division of Invertebrate Paleontology
- Field work in Gaspe, Quebec; New Brunswick; Eastern New York
- USNM acidizing program begun
- Ozarkian and Canadian Brachiopoda published with Edward Oscar Ulrich
- Field work on Permian brachiopods of Glass Mountains, Texas
- Associate curator, USNM, Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology
- Associate curator, USNM, Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany
- Geological Society of America (GSA) published Devonian correlation chart with Cooper's concepts of facies, zonation, and stages
- Received Washington Academy of Sciences Award in the Biological Sciences
- Acid etching laboratory installed in NHB
- Field work in Sonora, Mexico, on Cambrian sequence with Alberto R. V. Arellano and Ignecio Flores
- Curator, USNM, Division of Invertebrate Paleontology
- Field work in Sonora, Mexico, completed
- Awarded Honorary D.Sc., Colgate University
- Acting head curator, USNM, Department of Geology
- Chazyan and Related Brachiopods published
- Head curator, USNM, Department of Geology
- President of Paleontological Society
- Awarded Mary Clark Thompson Medal of National Academy of Sciences
- Morphology, Classification, and Life Habits of Productoids (Brachiopoda) published with Helen Muir-Wood
- Department of Geology split into Department of Paleobiology and Department of Mineral Sciences; Cooper appointed chairman of Department of Paleobiology
- Awarded Paleontological Society Medal
- Resigned in February as chairman of Department of Paleobiology and appointed senior paleobiologist, NMNH
- Traveled to England and Poland
- First volume of Permian Brachiopods of West Texas published, with Richard E. Grant
- Retired from NMNH and appointed paleobiologist emeritus, February 29
- Awarded Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of National Academy of Sciences
- Awarded Raymond C. Moore Medal of Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists
- Awarded Penrose Medal of GSA
- Awarded James Hall Medal of the New York State Geological Survey
- Retired from active research at NMNH as paleobiologist emeritus
This finding aid was digitized with funds generously provided by the Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee.
The papers of G. Arthur Cooper offer broad documentation of his professional career. The collection documents his interest in taxonomy and stratigraphy; his scientific research on fossil brachiopods; his extensive field work in the United States, Canada, and Mexico; his curatorial duties and administrative activities in the Departments of Geology and Paleobiology, NMNH, including the development of the invertebrate paleontological collections; and his role in professional societies.
Series 1 consists mainly of the extensive correspondence Cooper maintained with scientific colleagues in the paleontological community worldwide between 1940 and 1987. Incoming and outgoing correspondence documents the exchange of ideas and information on taxonomic identifications and classifications; field work; and the loan and acquisition of fossil specimens. Scientific correspondence files also include photographs of specimens for identification; obituaries of colleagues; and nineteenth-century letters of Edward Oscar Ulrich and Thomas Davidson used for research purposes.
Series 2 contains travel and grant files, 1927-1968, that document communication with the Department while Cooper was in the field and records pertaining to grants for scientific research. It includes correspondence, memoranda, travel expense records, and itineraries from field trips, as well as grant proposals and records on Cooper's involvement in various professional societies.
Cooper's role as an administrator at the USNM and NMNH is documented in series 3. The correspondence, dated between 1933 and 1967, concerns activities of professional societies; bequests, including nineteenth-century correspondence and copies of wills and bequests; the relationship between the department and the Smithsonian Libraries; the Exhibits Modernization Program; and the opening of the paleontological halls, 1961-1963. Also included are a notebook, several manuscripts, and one folder of correspondence created by William F. Foshag during his tenure as head curator of the Department of Geology.
Overlap exists between series 1, scientific correspondence, and series 3, administrative correspondence; therefore, researchers should check both to ensure a complete search.
Series 4 consists of Cooper's manuscripts and text of speeches written before his arrival at the USNM and during the course of his career. Of special interest are Cooper's M.S. thesis, "Hamilton Group in Hamilton Township," and an incomplete draft of his Ph.D. dissertation, "Hamilton Group of New York." Oversize figures for several of these manuscripts are housed off site. It is recommended that researchers make prior arrangements with the reference staff when requesting this material.
Series 5 and 6 consist of field notes, photographs, and slides taken by Cooper during his collecting trips. Field notes and photographs from his early work in New York State, the Gaspe region of Quebec, and a variety of localities across the United States are included in these divisions. His field work and research on the Hamilton formation in New York and Glass Mountains in Texas are especially well documented.
Additional information about Cooper can be found in Record Unit 328, the chairman's files of the Department of Paleobiology, 1940-1978; Record Unit 9523, oral history interviews of Cooper; and Record Unit 9529, videohistory interviews of Cooper.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur), 1902-2000
- Cloud, Preston, 1912-1991
- Muir-Wood, Helen M. (Helen Marguerite)
- Schuchert, Charles, 1858-1942
- Ulrich, E. O. (Edward Oscar), 1857-1944
- Williams, Alwyn
- Foshag, William F. (William Frederick), 1894-1956
- Grant, Richard E., 1927-1994
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Department of Geology
- Colgate University
- Yale University
- United States National Museum. Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Department of Paleobiology
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7318, G. Arthur Cooper Papers