Born in 1841, Shaler studied at Harvard College under Louis Agassiz and would go on to become a Harvard fixture in his own right, as lecturer and professor of paleontology for two decades (1869–1888) and as professor of geology for nearly two more (1888–1906).
Early in his professional career Shaler was broadly a creationist and anti-Darwinist. This was largely out of deference to the brilliant but old-fashioned Agassiz, whose patronage served Shaler well in ascending the Harvard ladder. When his own position at Harvard was secure, Shaler gradually accepted Darwinism in principle but viewed it through a neo-Lamarckian lens. Shaler extended Charles Darwin's work of the importance of earthworm soil bioturbation to soil formation to other animals, such as ants. Like many other evolutionists of the time, Shaler incorporated basic tenets of natural selection—chance, contingency, opportunism—into a picture of order, purpose and progress in which characteristics were inherited through the efforts of individual organisms.
Shaler was also an apologist for slavery and an outspoken believer in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race. In his later career, Shaler continued to support Agassiz's polygenism, a theory of human origins that was often used to support racial discrimination. In his 1884 article, "The Negro Problem", published in the Atlantic Monthly, Shaler claimed that black people freed from slavery were "like children lost in the wood, needing the old protection of the strong mastering hand," that they became increasingly dominated by their "animal nature" as they grew from children into adults, and American slavery had been "infinitely the mildest and most decent system of slavery that ever existed.".
In his later career, Shaler served as Harvard's Dean of Sciences and was considered one of the university's most popular teachers. He published scores of long and short treatises in his lifetime, with subjects ranging from topographical surveys to moral philosophy. Shaler also served as a Union officer in the U.S. Civil War.
See also 
- Darwin, Charles (1881). The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms, with observations on their habits. London: John Murray.
- Shaler, N. S., 1891, The origin and nature of soils, in Powell, J. W., ed., USGS 12th Annual report 1890-1891: Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, pp. 213-45
- Shaler, N.S., "The Negro Problem," Atlantic Monthly, November 1884, p. 697-698. See http://digital.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=atla;cc=atla;rgn=full%20text;idno=atla0054-5;didno=atla0054-5;view=image;seq=0702;node=atla0054-5%3A18
- "Author Query for 'Shaler'". International Plant Names Index.
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Nathaniel Shaler at Project Gutenberg
- The Autobiography of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler at Google Books