Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology

Alexander WilsonDr. Jed Burtt
Ohio Wesleyan University
April 2, 2015 at 7 p.m. in Golisano Auditorium @ Rochester Institute of Technology
Public Lecture and Book Signing

If you are a birder, you’ve heard of Wilson’s Plover, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Warbler…

In 1794, a young poet, labor activist, and weaver arrived in Philadelphia, a refugee from his native Scotland. His first letter home exclaims over the bright colors and abundance of the birds he found in the fields and forests of America. He taught school, wrote poetry, and engaged in the political discussion of the young democracy.

In 1803 he met William Bartram and conceived the idea of describing all the birds of the United States. With Bartram’s guidance Wilson taught himself to draw and paint birds, to identify them, and began his collection during a walk from Philadelphia to Niagara Falls in the autumn of 1804. Volume 1 of Wilson’s American Ornithology was published in 1808 and volume 9 in 1814, the year after his death.

Wilson wrote, edited, illustrated, and researched all nine volumes. He also sold subscriptions. It was a monumental achievement in science, art, and literature. This abundantly illustrated program tells us more about how important Wilson’s work was to the development of American science and culture.

About the Speaker

Dr. Jed Burtt came to Ohio Wesleyan University in 1977 after receiving an A.B. from Bowdoin College, M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, and spending a year as a post-doc in psychology (organization of behavior in animals). He retired last year and is now the Cincinnati Conference Professor of Zoology emeritus. He served as Review Editor and Editor of the Journal of Field Ornithology, President of the Association of Field Ornithologists, Wilson Ornithological Society, American Ornithologists’ Union, and the Ohio Alliance for the Environment.

In the latter role he authored a report on environmental threats facing Ohio and suggested solutions to the problems. He is the author or co-author of about 90 scientific papers, most of which deal with the evolution of color in birds, others explore the microbiology of the plumage. Most recently he has written about philosophy of science. He has written six books, the most recent, published in 2013, is “Alexander Wilson: the Scot who founded American Ornithology.”

Dr. Burtt is passionate about teaching and received the Bishop Herbert Welch award for outstanding teaching from Ohio Wesleyan and was the 2012 Ohio Professor of the Year. In 2013 he received the Margaret Morse Nice Award from the Wilson Ornithological Society for contributions to the field of ornithology.

For more information:  http://www.rit.edu/science/news/12/19/distinguished-speaker-0

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