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Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Record Unit 9524

Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur), 1902-2000 interviewee

G. Arthur Cooper Interviews, 1984

Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at osiaref@si.edu.
Creator: Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur), 1902-2000 interviewee
Title: G. Arthur Cooper Interviews
Dates: 1984
Quantity: 6 audiotapes (Reference copies). 10 digital .mp3 files (Reference copies).
Collection: Record Unit 9524
Language of Materials: English
Summary:

These interviews of Cooper by Pamela M. Henson cover his youth and education; his career as Curator at the USNM, especially development of the collections, field work, research, and publications; his administrative responsibilities; and his reminiscences of colleagues at Yale University, the USNM, and the United States Geological Survey, including Charles Elmer Resser, Charles Schuchert, Edward Oscar Ulrich and Alexander Wetmore.

Historical Note

G. 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.

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Introduction

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.

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Descriptive Entry

Cooper was interviewed by Pamela M. Henson and Ellis Yochelson 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.

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Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9524, Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur), 1902-2000 interviewee, G. Arthur Cooper Interviews

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Container List

Box 1

Transcript of Interviews

Covers his youth, education, and career at the USNM, c. 1902-1965, including:
family and childhood in Flushing, New York;
mineral collecting with Arthur Payne;
undergraduate major in chemistry at Colgate University, 1921-1924;
stratigraphic research for the M.S. degree from Colgate in 1926;
doctoral program at Yale University under supervision of Carl O. Dunbar and Charles Schuchert, 1926-1929;
initial work on brachiopods with Schuchert at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, 1928-1930;
doctoral dissertation on the stratigraphy of the Hamilton formation, 1929;
continuation of brachiopod research at the USNM, 1930s;
establishment of acid-etching program for silicified fossils;
Ozarkian-Canadian dispute between Ulrich, Foerste, Bridge, Resser, and Cooper, 1934;
reminiscences of his supervisor, Charles Resser, 1930-1943;
state of the brachiopod collection upon his arrival in 1930 and its subsequent development;
effects of the Great Depression including Work Progress Administration assistants, 1930s;
field work in the United States and Canada;
reminiscences of his early years at the USNM, including museum services, curatorial responsibilities, and USNM director Alexander Wetmore;
field work in Mexico during World War II;
relationship between paleontology and stratigraphy, and the switch to the name "paleobiology";
relationship of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to the USNM;
acquisition of specimens from the Smithsonian Oceanographic Sorting Center, 1960s.
Transcript, pp. 1-67, of audiotape recording, 2.0 hours.
Covers his curatorial career at the USNM, c. 1930-1967, especially:
reminiscences of colleagues at the USNM and USGS, especially Bassler, Resser, and Ulrich, 1930s and 1940s;
Devonian work with A. S. Warthin, 1930s and 1940s;
primary importance of collections in relation to research;
contribution to the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, 1950s;
collections and management, including segregation of type specimens, loans, and cataloging;
reminiscences of Department of Geology staff;
use of the Walcott Fund for collections acquisition and field work;
split of the Department of Geology in to the Departments of Mineral Sciences and Paleobiology in 1963;
acquisition of an electron microprobe for the Department of Mineral Sciences from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration;
development of a sedimentology group, 1965;
planning for the move to the wings of the NHB, 1960-1965;
exhibits modernization in the fifties;
development of his darkroom for photography;
contributions of Josephine Wells Cooper to the department as a collector and translator.
Transcript, pp. 68-117, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.

Interview 3 (26 January 1984)

Box 1 of 1
Discusses his views concerning the profession and science of paleobiology, and his administrative career, c. 1930-1967, especially:
his assessment of the field of paleobiology;
establishment of a paleobiology subgroup within the Geological Society of America;
stimulus to science by John F. Kennedy and from the oil industry, 1960s;
"monographic bursts" vs. "evolutionary bursts" in paleobiology;
attempts to acquire the Nininger Collection of Meteorites with National Science Foundation funds;
acquisition of an electron microprobe for meteorite research;
his responsibilities as Head Curator and Chairman, 1957-1967;
his appointment as Senior Paleobiologist in 1967;
role of the NMNH as a "national" museum;
field work in the United States with colleagues.
Transcript, pp. 118-165, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.

Tapes of Interviews

Interview 1: 5 January 1984

Box 1 of 1
Total Recording Time: 2.0 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 4 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotapes, 4 digital .mp3 files

Interview 2: 12 January 1984

Box 1 of 1
Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 3 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotapes; 3 digital .mp3 files

Interview 3: 26 January 1984

Box 1 of 1
Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 3 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotapes; 3 digital .mp3 files