An "Odd Fish" Who Swam Against the Tide

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  • Article on the life of Constantine Rafinesque (1783-1840), a brilliant but eccentric naturalist who engaged in far-ranging travels and a vast array of professions and interests during his lifetime. He possessed a curiosity about and produced voluminous writings on a great number of natural history and other subjects, ranging from botany to poetry. His contributions to a number of fields of study earned him recognition and awards from European and American scientific academies. Born in Turkey to affluent parents, Rafinesque was privately tutored and became a voracious reader at an early age. Rather than attend college, he traveled to western Europe to collect plants and pursue other studies on his own and by corresponding with renowned scientists of the time.
  • Rafinesque came to the United States in 1802 for employment in the banking industry and to further his studies as a naturalist, but after 3 years returned to Europe where he married and lived with his family in Sicily. In 1815 Rafinesque returned alone to the U.S., traveling extensively to pursue his varied interests; acquaintances and other scientists found him to be brilliant but arrogant, and he had few friends. He joined the faculty of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, for a time, but lived the last 15 years of his life in Philadelphia.


Rafinesque, C. S (Constantine Samuel) 1783-1840


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Eight illustrations accompany the article. The Smithsonian Institution is not mentioned in the article's text; however, the Smithsonian Institution Archives is the depository for various Rafinesque papers.

Contained within

Smithsonian Vol. 29, No. 10 (Journal)

Contact information

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


January 1999


  • Collectors and collecting
  • Naturalists
  • Biography

Physical description

p. 112-125

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