Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9524
Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur), 1902-2000, interviewee
G. Arthur Cooper Oral History Interviews, 1984
Gustav Arthur Cooper (1902-2000), was a invertebrate paleobiologist in the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), specializing in the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. He began collecting natural history specimens and minerals during his youth in New York. He received the B.S. degree from Colgate University in 1924 with a major in chemistry and the M.S. degree in 1926. He continued graduate work at Yale University with Drs. Carl O. Dunbar and Charles Schuchert, and was awarded the Ph.D. in 1929 for his thesis on the stratigraphy of the Hamilton formation. Under Schuchert's direction, he began research on fossil brachiopods, his life's work. While at Yale, he served as an Assistant Curator (1928-1929) and Research Associate (1929-1930) in the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
In 1930, Cooper was appointed 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 assumed the Head Curatorship of the Department of Geology in 1957, and oversaw its division into separate departments of Paleobiology and Mineral Sciences in 1963. He continued as Chairman of the Department of Paleobiology until he was appointed Senior Paleobiologist in 1967. After his retirement from federal service in 1974, he continued his research as Paleobiologist Emeritus.
Cooper was 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). He conducted field work in the United States, Canada, or Mexico virtually every year of his career at the USNM, 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 in Texas. He also developed his own photographic laboratory, producing over fifty thousand images from the collections.
As an administrator, Cooper presided over a ten-fold increase in the paleobiology curatorial staff, from two in 1944 to twenty in 1967. He was the driving force behind the split of the Department of Geology into two separate departments in 1963. He also planned and supervised the move into the new wings of the Natural History Building (NHB) in 1963-1965.
Among the many honors bestowed upon him are the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America in 1983, the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1979, the Paleontological Society Medal in 1964, and the Mary Clark Thompson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1958.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Cooper was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his long and distinguished scholarly and administrative career at the Institution spanning more than half a century.
Cooper was interviewed by Pamela M. Henson on three occasions in January of 1984. The interviews cover his childhood interest in natural history collections, his education, and his career as a curator of invertebrate paleobiology in the NMNH, notably his research, field work, care of the paleontological collection, administration, and reminiscences of colleagues such as Edwin Kirk, Charles E. Resser, Charles Schuchert, Edward O. Ulrich, Aldred Scott Warthin and Alexander Wetmore. For additional videotaped oral history interviews of Cooper, see Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9530, Smithsonian Institution Paleobiology Videohistory Interviews.
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
- Resser, Charles Elmer, 1889-1943
- Schuchert, Charles, 1858-1942
- Ulrich, E. O. (Edward Oscar), 1857-1944
- Wetmore, Alexander, 1886-1978
- Henson, Pamela M., interviewer
- Geological Survey (U.S.)
- Yale University
- United States National Museum. Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology
- United States National Museum. Department of Geology
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Department of Paleobiology
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Invertebrate Paleontology
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9524, G. Arthur Cooper Oral History Interviews