Simpson, George Gaylord, 1902-1984

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George Gaylord Simpson was a vertebrate paleontologist perhaps best known for his contributions to the founding and further articulation of the modern evolutionary synthesis. He studied at Yale University (Ph.D. 1926), having initially worked at the American Museum of Natural History in 1924. He returned to work the AMNH as a curator (1927-1942) and later as chairman of the Department of Paleontology and Geology (1942-1959). Simpson accepted an Alexander Agassiz Professorship from Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology (1959-1967), and taught courses in geology and biology. From there the Simpsons relocated to Tucson, Arizona, where George taught geology at the University of Arizona (1967-1984) while continuing his scientific writing.

From the description of Papers, 1918-1984. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 154297997

One of the seminal figures in the emergence of the Modern or Neo-Darwinian Synthesis during the mid-twentieth century, George Gaylord Simpson (1902-1984) helped define the unique contribution made by vertebrate paleontology to the life sciences. A specialist in Mesozoic and early Cenozoic mammals, Simpson's contributions to the fusion of Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics were both empirical and theoretical, culminating in his major works Tempo and Mode in Evolution and The Meaning of Evolution. From his posts at the American Museum of Natural History (1927-1959), Columbia University (1945-1959), Harvard (1959-1967), and the University of Arizona (1967-1984), Simpson became one of the most influential paleontologists of the century, helped in part by his ability to write successfully for both a technical, professional audience and a popular audience.

From the guide to the The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of Its Significance for Man, 1949, (American Philosophical Society)

The vertebrate paleontologist and evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson (1902-1984) was one of the seminal figures in the emergence of the Modern of Neo-Darwinian Synthesis during the mid-twentieth century. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Simpson was raised mostly in Denver, Colorado. Entering the University of Colorado in 1918, Simpson transferred to Yale in 1922, where he received both his B.A. (1923) and doctorate (1926). His dissertation, American Mesozoic Mammalia (1929), was among the first exhaustive analyses of the early evolutionary diversification of mammals, and began what would become a life-long interest in the subject.

During his formative years, Simpson was strongly influenced by his advisor Richard Swan Lull, Charles Schuchert, Carl O. Dunbar, Ross Harrison, L. L. Woodruff, and William Diller Matthew, and from the 1920s, and while he retained a traditional orientation toward field work and collection, Simpson was fluent in neontological approaches. From early in his career, he wrote that he consciously set out to lay "a basis for more theoretical and philosophical considerations of evolution."

After a post-doctoral year at the British Museum of Natural History, Simpson returned to the states in the fall, 1927, to take up a position with the American Museum of Natural History. The Museum proved an ideal spot to continue his work on Mesozoic and early Cenozoic mammals, and supported a series of important collecting expeditions, most notably his expeditions to Patagonia (1930-31, 1933-34) to study Eocene mammals. Out of one of these visits came Simpson's book Attending Marvels (1931), which was the first in a string of highly successful books on evolutionary and natural historical topics that Simpson wrote for a popular audience. In addition, Simpson and his second wife, Anne Roe (a childhood friend whom he married in 1938), co-wrote an unpublished mystery novel, "Trouble in the Tropics," during an unusually rainy season on their expedition to Venezuela in 1938-1939. More importantly, his South American experiences sharpened Simpson's understanding of the role of biogeography in evolutionary process.

In 1942, Simpson interrupted his career at the museum to enlist in the military. As a Captain, then Major, in Army intelligence, Simpson served with American forces in North Africa and western Europe until 1944, when he was forced to resign due to a severe bout of hepatitis. Upon his return home, two bronze stars in tow, he was promoted to chair of the Department of Geology and Paleontology at the American Museum, and accepted a cross appointment as professor of zoology at Columbia University (1945-1959), resuming his work on early mammals, concentrating on the rich Paleocene and Eocene faunas of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico.

The late 1940s, however, were among the most productive years of Simpson's long career. Just prior to his enlistment, he had completed two important works, Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944) and Principles of Classification and a Classification of Mammals (1945). As a guiding force in the Committee on the Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Evolution of the National Research Council, he, along with the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, the biologist Ernst Mayr, and a handful of other scientists, crafted a persuasive argument showing the theoretical consistency of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian natural selection. Simpson's Tempo and Mode in Evolution, in particular, was a critical work in catalysing what Julian Huxley called the Modern Synthesis in evolutionary biology, the wedding diachronic data derived from paleontological study of the fossil record with neontological field data, and the empirical data of contemporary genetics. In The Meaning of Evolution (1949) Simpson provided a popular account of modern evolutionary theory -- popular in every sense of the word -- emphasizing the data provided uniquely by the fossil record.

Less successfully, at least in retrospect, Simpson's Evolution and Geography (1953) attempted to provide a coherent overview of paleobiogeography, rejecting the nascent theory of continental drift in favor of more traditional interpretations. Simpson's views on continental drift and biogeography changed radically with the accumulation of new data on sea floor spreading in the 1960s. In 1953, Simpson also completed The Major Features of Evolution, a synthetic overview of evolutionary theory.

An increasing slate of professional commitments provided a full schedule for Simpson during the decade. He traveled around the world with UNESCO in 1951, took part in two conferences on behavior and evolution (1955-1956), and in 1956, traveled to Brazil, where he almost lost his right leg when he was struck by a falling tree. Although his fieldwork was curtailed due to his protracted convalescence and continuing pain in his leg, he remained typically productive, putting out a textbook, Life: An Introduction to Biology in 1957.

Resigning his positions in New York in 1959, Simpson became Alexander Agassiz Professor in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University (1959-1967). His later works, both professional and popular, revisited many of the themeshe had elaborated in the previous two decades, touching on systematics ( Principles of Animal Taxonomy, 1961), evolution ( This View of Life, 1964), and paleobiogeography ( The Geography of Evolution, 1965). Anne Roe, a psychologist, simultaneously employed as full professor in the Department of Education.

The Simpsons relocated to Tucson, Arizona, in 1967, when George accepted a professorship in geology at the University of Arizona (1967-1984). He continued to publish until the end of his life, including Penguins (1976), Splendid Isolation (1980), and his autobiography Concession to the Improbable (1978). He died in Tucson on October 6, 1984.

The laurels of an academic life fell abundantly on Simpson. A founder and president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (Pres., 1942) and Society for the Study of Evolution (Pres., 1946), he was president variously of a number of professional organizations, ranging from the American Society of Mammalogists and American Society of Zoologists to the Society of Systematic Zoology. He was, as well, member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was elected to the the American Philosophical Society (1936), the Linnean Society of London, the National Academy of Sciences (1941), and the Royal Society of London (1958). He also received honorary degrees from the University of Colorado, the University of New Mexico, the University of Chicago, Yale University, and York University.

From the guide to the George Gaylord Simpson Papers, 1918-1984, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of Its Significance for Man, 1949 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Harris, Norman Wait, 1846-1916. Norman Wait Harris Memorial Foundation lectures records, 1906-1972. Northwestern University
referencedIn Schaeffer, Bobb, 1913-2004. Papers, 1940-1984. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Brown, Barnum. Correspondence, 1897-1963. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. General correspondence files, [ca. 1887]-1966. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Galusha, Theodore, 1911-1979. Papers, 1933-1975. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf George Gaylord Simpson Papers, 1918-1984 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Julian Sorell Huxley papers MS 50., 1899-1980 Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX
referencedIn Guide to the Juliette Huxley papers, MS 474., 1895-1994 Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX
referencedIn American Museum of Natural History. Paleontological Expedition to New Mexico (1947). New Mexico vertebrate paleontological field photographs, 1947. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Thomas Harper Goodspeed: Correspondence Relating to Research on Tobacco, 1926-1950 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Frick, Childs, 1883-1965. Corporation and Laboratory records, 1918-1965, 1924-1961 (bulk). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Simpson, George Gaylord, 1902-1984. Classification of fossil Mammalia as used in D.V.P. [i.e. the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology] : largely according to Dr. Simpson / copied by J.M.L. American Museum of Natural History
referencedIn Papers, 1918-1993 Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. Map collection, [ca. 1880-1962], 1900-1940 (bulk) Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Simpson, George Gaylord, 1902-1984. Letters, 1918-1962, to Martha Lee Simpson. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Simpson, George Gaylord, 1902-1984. Papers, 1918-1984. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Stephen Jay Gould papers, 1899-2004, 1941-2002 Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Gregory, William K. (William King), 1876-1970. Papers, 1889-1948 (bulk 1906-1948). American Museum of Natural History
referencedIn Gould, Stephen Jay. Stephen Jay Gould papers, 1899-2004 (inclusive), 1941-2002 (bulk). Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. Field diaries, 1891-1970. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn William B. Provine collection of evolutionary biology reprints, 20th century. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Goodspeed, T. H. (Thomas Harper), 1887-1966. Correspondence relating to research on tobacco, 1926-1950. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Scarritt Expedition to Northern Patagonia, 2nd (1933-1934). Paleontological museum studio photographs, 1946. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Huntington, Ellsworth, 1876-1947. Ellsworth Huntington papers, 1779-1953 (inclusive), 1890-1947 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. Field correspondence, 1891-1969. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Norman Wait Harris Lecture Series, 1906-2007 Northwestern University Archives
referencedIn Ellsworth Huntington papers, 1779-1952, 1890-1947 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf The Meaning of Evolution, 1948 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf McCrady, Edward, 1906-. The Charleston Museum : its origin and charm / Edward McCrady. Medical University of South Carolina Libraries
referencedIn Huxley, Julian, 1887-1975. Papers, 1899-1980. Rice University, Fondren Library
referencedIn Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 Harvard University Archives.
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith American Humanist Association. corporateBody
associatedWith American Museum of Natural History. corporateBody
associatedWith American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. corporateBody
associatedWith American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. corporateBody
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associatedWith American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. corporateBody
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associatedWith American Society of Mammalogists. corporateBody
associatedWith American Society of Zoologists. corporateBody
associatedWith Arambourg, C. (Camille), b. 1885. person
associatedWith Ayala, Francisco José, 1934- person
associatedWith Ayala, Fransisco José, 1934- person
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associatedWith Bebe, William. person
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associatedWith Bordas, A. F. person
associatedWith Bordas, Alejandro F. person
associatedWith Boucot, A. J. (Arthur James), 1924- person
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associatedWith Clark, Wilfrid E. Le Gros (Wilfrid Edward Le Gros), 1895-1971. person
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associatedWith Dobzhansky, Theodosius, 1900-1975. person
associatedWith Dunbar, Carl O. (Carl Owen), 1891-1979 person
associatedWith Eastlake, Martha Lee Simpson. person
associatedWith Edinger, Tilly, 1897- person
associatedWith Elias, Maxim K. (Maxim Konradovich), 1889- person
associatedWith Epling, Carl, 1894- person
associatedWith Ford, E. B. (Edmund Briscoe), 1901- person
associatedWith Freeman, Derek person
associatedWith Frick, Childs, 1883-1965. person
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associatedWith Geological Society of America. corporateBody
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associatedWith Gould, Stephen Jay. person
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associatedWith Hall, E. Raymond (Eugene Raymond), 1902- person
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associatedWith Heberer, Gerhardt, 1901-1973 person
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associatedWith Hoffstetter, Robert person
associatedWith Hooijer, Dirk Albert. person
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correspondedWith Huxley, Julian Sorell person
correspondedWith Huxley, Juliette, 1896- person
associatedWith International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. corporateBody
associatedWith Jenkins, Farish A., 1940- person
associatedWith Jepsen, Glenn Lowell, 1904- person
associatedWith Kellogg, Remington, 1893- person
associatedWith Kermack, K. A. (Kenneth A.) person
associatedWith Kuhn-Schnyder, Emil person
associatedWith Kurtén, BjC6rn person
associatedWith Kurtén, Björn. person
associatedWith Laporte, Léo F. person
associatedWith Laporte, Léo F. person
associatedWith Lattimore, Owen, 1900-1989. person
associatedWith Lavocat, René person
associatedWith Leakey, Louis Seymour Bazett, 1903-1972. person
associatedWith Lewontin, Richard Charles, 1929- person
associatedWith Lillegraven, Jason A., 1938- person
associatedWith Lull, Richard Swann, 1867-1957. person
associatedWith Marshall, Larry G. person
associatedWith Matthew, William Diller, 1871-1930. person
associatedWith Mayr, Ernst, 1904-2005. person
associatedWith McCrady, Edward, 1906- person
associatedWith McGrew, Paul Orman, 1909- person
associatedWith McKenna, Malcolm C. person
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associatedWith Muller, H. J. (Hermann Joseph), 1890-1967. person
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associatedWith National Research Council (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith Nelson, Gareth J. person
associatedWith Newell, Norman Dennis, 1909-2005 person
associatedWith Olsen, Stanley John, 1919-2003. person
associatedWith Olson, Everett Claire, 1910- person
associatedWith Osborn, Henry Fairfield, 1857-1935. person
associatedWith Ostrom, John H. person
associatedWith Pascual, Rosendo. person
associatedWith Patterson, Bryan, 1909-1979. person
associatedWith Paul A. Freund person
associatedWith Phelps, William Henry person
correspondedWith Provine, William B. person
associatedWith Reig, Osvaldo person
associatedWith Rensch, Bernhard, 1900- person
associatedWith Reynolds, Thomas Emmett, 1892- person
associatedWith Riggs, Elmer Samuel, 1869- person
associatedWith Riggs, Elwen S. person
associatedWith Roe, Anne, 1904- person
associatedWith Romer, Alfred Sherwood, 1894-1973. person
associatedWith Russell, Loris Shano, 1904- person
associatedWith Scaglia, Galileo J. person
associatedWith Scaglia, Galileo J. person
associatedWith Scarritt Expedition to Northern Patagonia, 2nd (1933-1934) corporateBody
associatedWith Schaeffer, Bobb person
associatedWith Schaeffer, Bobb, 1913-2004. person
associatedWith Schuchert, Charles, 1858-1942. person
associatedWith Scott, William Berryman, 1858-1947 person
associatedWith Simons, Elwyn L. person
associatedWith Society for the Study of Evolution. corporateBody
associatedWith Society of Systematic Zoology (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. corporateBody
associatedWith Stebbins, George Ledyard, 1906- person
associatedWith Stebbins, G. Ledyard, (George Ledyard), 1906-2000 person
associatedWith Stirtin, Ruben Arthur, 1901-1966. person
associatedWith Tieje, Arthur Jerrold, 1889- person
associatedWith University of Arizona corporateBody
associatedWith Van Valen, Leigh person
associatedWith Westoll, T. Stanley person
associatedWith Wilson, Edward Osborne, 1929- person
associatedWith Wood, Albert Elmer, 1910- person
associatedWith Wood, Horace person
associatedWith Wood, Horace. person
associatedWith Woodward, Arthur Smith, 1864-1944 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Patagonia (Argentina and Chile)
Venezuela
Chile
Patagonia (Argentina and Chile)
New Mexico
Argentina
Argentina--Patagonia
Venezuela
Arizona
Subject
Scientific expeditions
Evolution
Paleontology
Evolutionary synthesis
Darwinism
Religion and science--20th century
Biology--Classification
Genetics
Evolution (Biology)
Horses--Evolution
Extinction (Biology)
Behavior evolution
Mammals--Evolution
Biogeography
Paleontology--Argentina--Patagonia
Creationism
Mammals, Fossil
World War, 1939-1945
Paleontology--Venezuela
Evolution--Religious aspects
Natural selection
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1902-06-16

Death 1984-10-06

Americans

English

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