History of Geology
James S. Aber
Founded as Kansas Natural History Society at Topeka in 1868.
Named changed to Kansas Academy of Science in 1871.
|Founding of KNHS||Expansion into KAS|
|KAS in 20th century||KAS in 21st century|
The turning point for the society came in 1870, when its annual meeting was held in Lawrence, at the invitation of Professor F.H. Snow of the University of Kansas. The meeting was well attended, and the decision was made to expand the scope of the organization to include all sciences. The Kansas Academy of Science became official the following year. In 1873, KAS became a coordinate department of the State Board of Agriculture. This arrangment resulted in great benefits for the academy during the remainder of the 19th century. The KAS undertook several major projects—lobbying for establishment of a permanent geological survey, developing a science museum, amassing a science library, and publishing the Transactions. The geological survey finally came to fruition in 1895. The science library and museum were initially successful, but were later discontinued. The KAS continues to publish the Transactions, as well as to hold annual meetings and field trips, and to sponsor other scientific and educational activities.
Introduction and Kansas statehood
The region of Kansas had been a focal point for European exploration and trade since the
expedition by Coronado in 1541. France entered the territory with an expedition by Bourgmont
in 1724, and a permanent French trading post was established in vicinity of modern-day Fort
Leavenworth on the Missouri River—see
Fort de Cavagnial (Hoffhaus 1984). Throughout the first half of the 19th century,
Kansas was a crossroads for travel, beginning with the Lewis and Clark journey up the Missouri River. Other well-worn paths included the Oregon-California trail, Santa Fe trail,
and Smoky Hill trail (Peters 1996). The Pony Express flourished for a brief time, in 1860-61, before the
transcontinental telegraph was completed (through Nebraska).
|Map of Kansas Territory in 1856. Latitudes 37°N and 40°N formed the south and north boundaries. The eastern boundary was the Missouri River, and the territory extended to the continental divide on the west. The western portion was removed at approximately 102°W when Kansas became a state in 1861. Click on the small image to see a larger version.|
Founding of Kansas Natural History Society
The Kansas Academy of Science is among the oldest, continuously active state academies of science in the nation. Only Connecticut and California have older academies. At the time of its founding in the late 1860s, the academy had little likelihood for long-term success (Skelton 1998). The academy was co-founded by a minister and a geologist (Thompson 1885; Bonwell 1969).
John Dempster Parker (1831-1909) was born in Homer, New York, and his family moved to Michigan when he was four years old. He graduated from the University of Michigan and then taught in Indiana and Illinois for a few years before entering the Chicago Theological Seminary from which he graduated in 1865 (Willard 1911). Parker was a young Congregationalist minister when he arrived in Topeka in 1867. He was appointed professor of natural science at Lincoln College (now Washburn University). He noted the lack of scientific establishments and resources in Kansas and attempted to organize a society in Topeka. He had little success initially. So he contacted geologist Benjamin F. Mudge at the Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University) in Manhattan.
Mudge was one of the most influential scientists in Kansas at the time. Mudge supported the concept, but wanted to move cautiously because a similar attempt to organize an academy in Michigan had failed recently. A call for an organizational meeting was posted in the Kansas Educational Journal. The meeting took place on Sept. 1st, 1868 in Topeka; however, a big storm limited attendence [note 1]. Mudge was elected first President, and Parker was elected Secretary of the "Kansas Natural History Society" (KNHS). Society goals were stated as:
|This building was the site of the first meeting of the Kansas Natural History Society at Lincoln College, now Washburn University. The building was still standing in 1903 when this picture was published in the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science (vol. 18). Image courtesy of M. Everhart.|
|Portrait of John D. Parker circa 1868. Courtesy of Washburn University; provided by M. Everhart (2013). See J.D. Parker memorial.|
|Portrait of Benjamin F. Mudge in the 1870s. Originally published in The American Geologist, Vol. 23, p. 338, 1899. In the public domain; obtained from Wikimedia Commons.|
Snow (born: Fitchburg, Massachusetts, 1840) was, like Parker, trained in theology. He took a position at the University of Kansas in 1866 (or early 1867?). He and Mudge agreed to divide their labors. Mudge concentrated on fossils; Snow worked on living organisms. Snow focused mainly in ornithology and entomology; he became chancellor of the University of Kansas in 1890. It is a remarkable commentary that Mudge and Snow had such freedom of action and broad-ranging abilities that they could separate their work between geology and biology. It is also noteworthy that two of the three most important people in the early academy were trained in theology. Similar developments would be highly unlikely nowadays.
In 1873, the young Kansas Academy of Science became a coordinate department of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. Mudge's long friendship with Albert Gray (Secretary of Ag.) undoubtedly was a factor. KAS received great benefits through this arrangement.
Mid-century growth of KAS was part of a national trend following World War II. Federal support for science education and research led to a favorable situation for state universities. Science was a "golden grail" for the United States through the NASA Apollo missions and other high-profile programs. However, the latter third of the century has seen a shift in support for science at the federal level and in other facets of society. Military-related research remains strong and biomedical research has grown substantially in the late 20th century (Greenberg 2001). However, the Kansas Academy of Science has never played a significant role in these scientific arenas. The natural sciences have remained relatively constant, in spite of emergence of environmental concerns. Combined with loss of state financial support, KAS has encountered some difficult times in recent decades. Membership declined sharply, and library memberships plummeted, as libraries faced huge cost increases for acquiring scientific journals.
The downward membership trend may be attributed also in part to increasing specialization of scientific disciplines, in which a regional, all-purpose scientific society holds little interest for many younger scientists and science students. KAS has gradually developed a natural history emphasis dominated by biology, geology, and other field sciences. Laboratory and theoretical work comprise only about 20% of TKAS articles in recent years. On this basis, KAS has slipped out of the mainstream of modern science. KAS appears to be returning to the original natural history society from which it began.
During the late 1980s and '90s, KAS leadership undertook several initiatives to revitalize the academy. Some of the more successful ventures include a fall field-trip series to a different part of the state each year, a distinguished lecture series, and online resources, as well as annual meetings and quality publications.
|Fall field trip, Oct. 1995. Participants observe a prairie preserve in the Flint Hills near Cassoday, east-central Kansas. Photo date 10/95; © J.S. Aber.|
|Cover of the first electronically prepared Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science.|
The KAS logo appears in lower left corner; it is a modification of the state seal.
|KAS Council meetings at Lake Kahola, Kansas. Left (2003) – from left, standing: James Taylor, Johanna Foster, Larry Skelton. From left, kneeling: George Potts, Stan Roth and Mike Everhart. Right (2012) – from left: Brian Maricle, Don Whittemore, Sam Leung, Eric Trump, Leland Russell, James Aber, Shaun Schmidt, Mark LaBarge, Lynnette Sievert, Duane Hinton and Richard Schroder. Photos © JSA & SWA.|
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© J.S. Aber (2020).