Professor Baird in Science

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Summary

  • This eulogy by William H. Dall was read at a memorial service for Spencer Fullerton Baird, second Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, who died in August 1887. Dall begins by expressing his sense of personal loss after Baird's death, and then uses the occasion to present a tribute to Baird and the important role he played in various scientific fields. In the author's view, Baird's scientific activity was exhibited in three principal directions: original investigation of the zoology of vertebrates, the diffusion of scientific knowledge, and the organization and administration of scientific agencies such as the United States National Museum and the United States Fish Commission.
  • Dall recognizes the difficulty of separating various phases of Baird's work, as they were closely interrelated, but expresses his hope that the late Secretary's contributions to zoological science through his original investigations will not become overlooked. Dall then speaks of the four zoological areas Baird contributed to with his research, and describes the exhaustive writings Baird prepared in each field. For example, in the area of mammals, Baird used materials from the Pacific Railway Surveys to prepare the book known as "Mammals of North America," which remains the standard general treatise on North American mammals thirty years after it was published.
  • Baird's great interest in birds was evidenced by the quality of many of his writings, especially the 1868 book, "Birds of North America," which began a long period of advanced ornithological research. Herpetology was one of Baird's early interests, and although his writings were not numerous in this area, his catalog of North American reptiles in the Smithsonian's collection served as a text book for students. His 1859 study of reptiles collected by the Pacific Railroad Surveys is viewed as a monument to patient research and analysis. Baird's contributions to ichthyologic literature were a number of papers published jointly with Charles Girard, but he produced over 400 other titles to produce the largest body of information relating to fish and fisheries ever prepared.
  • Throughout his tribute, Dall describes Baird as a prolific writer who had an enormous capacity for work, especially when under pressure. He was a careful observer, had a wonderful power of concentration and excellent judgment, and was extremely well-organized. Baird earned world-wide respect and recognition, but never failed to be encouraging and helpful to students and other researchers.

Author

Dall, William Healey 1845-1927

Subject

  • Girard, Charles Frederick
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Dall, William Healey 1845-1927
  • Pacific Railroad Surveys
  • United States Fish Commission
  • United States National Museum

Category

Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1888 (Book)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu

Date

1890

Topic

  • Secretariats
  • Animals
  • Herpetology
  • Secretaries
  • Zoology
  • Fishes
  • Birds
  • Fisheries
  • Ichthyology
  • Mammals
  • Biography
  • Ornithologists
  • Ornithology

Physical description

Number of pages : 8; Page numbers : 731-738

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