Ralph Vary Chamberlin

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Ralph Vary Chamberlin
Ralph V. Chamberlin.jpg
Born 1879
Salt Lake City, Utah
Died 1967
Salt Lake City
Nationality American
Fields Zoology
Institutions Brigham Young University, University of Utah, Harvard
Alma mater Cornell University
Known for Invertebrate taxonomy, history of Utah, BYU evolution controversy
Spouse Daisy Ferguson (1899-c.1910)
Edith Simons (1922-1965)[1]

Ralph Vary Chamberlin (1879–1967) was an American zoologist from Salt Lake City, Utah. He was dean of the University of Utah Medical School from 1905-1907, and later head of the university's Department of Zoology, as well as head of Department of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.[1] He was also professor of biology at Brigham Young University, where his teaching of evolution caused controversy resulting in his resignation. He authored or co-authored over 400 scientific publications and named over 2,000 species of invertebrates, especially arachnids and myriapods.


Chamberlin received his PhD from Cornell University in 1904. He was a professor of zoology at Brigham Young University from 1908 to 1911, and at the University of Utah from 1925 to 1938.[2]

Along with his brother William Henry Chamberlin and two other professors, Chamberlin become embroiled in an controversy starting in 1910 regarding the teaching of evolution at BYU, leading to his resignation in 1911, and his brother's in 1916.[3][4]

Chamberlin was a prolific taxonomist of invertebrate animals, and made major contributions to the study of arachnids (spiders, scorpions, and their relatives), and myriapods (millipedes, centipedes, and relatives). By 1941, he had described and named over 2,000 invertebrate species,[5] and over the course of his career he described and named more than 1,400 species of spider, of which nearly 1,000 are still recognized as valid species (i.e. not taxonomic synonyms of previously described species), making him one of the ten most prolific spider taxonomists in history.[6] Chamberlin co-authored several works with Wilton Ivie, another spider expert,[7], and was the uncle of Joseph Conrad Chamberlin, a noted arachnologist himself, and with whom he described several species of pseudoscorpions.[2] Chamberlin also ranks among the among the top three millipede taxonomists in history, in numbers of species described, naming more than 1,000 species.[8] After Chamberlin's death, his collection of some 250,000 spider specimens was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, bolstering the American Museum's status as the world's largest arachnid repository.[9] Similarly, his collection of millipedes was deposited in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., helping to make the National Museum the world's largest single collection of millipede type specimens- the individual specimens used to describe species.[10]:4

Chamberlin also studied plants of the Great Basin, and was interested in the ethnobotany- the relationship between people and plants- of indigenous peoples of the Great Basin. In the early 1900s he worked with the Goshute band of the Western Shoshone to study their uses of plants in food, beverages, medicine, and construction materials, and also the names and meanings of plants in Goshute language.[11] His resulting publication, The ethno-botany of the Gosiute Indians of Utah, is considered the first major ethnobotanical study of a single group of Great Basin peoples.[12]:103 He also published a list of plant names and uses of the Ute people.[13] One of Chamberlin's later colleagues at the University of Utah was Julian Steward, known as the founder of cultural ecology. Anthropologist Virginia Kerns writes that Chamberlin's experience with indigenous Great Basin cultures facilitated Steward's own cultural studies: "In terms of ecological knowledge, [Steward’s younger informants] probably could not match the elders who had instructed Chamberlin. That made his research on Goshute ethnobotany all the more valuable to Steward."[14]:285

Chamberlin's writings were not limited to biology or anthropology. In 1925, Chamberlin wrote a biography of his brother William who had died several years earlier. In 1949 he edited a book in tribute to John R. Park, an influential Utah educator of the 19th century. Later in his career, Chamberlin produced a book documenting 100 years of history of the University of Utah,[15] published in 1960.

Selected works[edit]

  • Chamberlin, R. V., 1911. The Meaning of Organic Evolution. Provo, Utah (Full text)
  • Chamberlin, R. V., 1911. The ethno-botany of the Gosiute Indians of Utah. Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association, 2: 330-384 (Full text)
  • Chamberlin, R. V., 1919. The Annelida Polychaeta. Museum of Comparative Zoölogy at Harvard College. 514pp.
  • Chamberlin, R. V. 1920. The Myriopoda of the Australian region. Memoirs of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. 235pp.
  • Chamberlin, R. V., and Ivie, W. 1942. A hundred new species of American spiders. 'Bulletin of the University of Utah'. 32(13). 117pp. (Full text)
  • Chamberlin, R. V., and R. L. Hoffman. 1958. Checklist of the millipeds of North America. 'Bulletin of the United States National Museum' 212: 1-236 (Full text)
  • Chamberlin, R. V. 1960. The University of Utah, a history of its first hundred years, 1850 to 1950. University of Utah Press, 668pp.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Ralph Vary Chamberlin Papers, 1940-1967", Utah State Historical Society, retrieved 25 July 2014 
  2. ^ a b Hans G. Hansson (1997-11-14). "Biographical Etymology of Marine Organism Names (BEMON)". Tjärnö Marine Biological Laboratory. 
  3. ^ "Inventory of the William Henry Chamberlin papers 1915-1954 § Historical Note", Special Collections and Archives, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, retrieved 2014-07-25 
  4. ^ Bergera, Gary James (1993). "The 1911 Evolution Controversy at Brigham Young University". In Sessions, Gene A.; Oberg, Craig J. The Search for Harmony: Essays on Science and Mormonism. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. pp. 23–41. ISBN 1-56085-020-5. OCLC 25873671. 
  5. ^ "U professor names 2,000 bugs". The Deseret News. April 24, 1941. 
  6. ^ Platnick, Norman I.; Raven, Robert J. (2013). "Spider Systematics: Past and Future". Zootaxa 3683 (5): 595. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3683.5.8. 
  7. ^ http://www.tarantupedia.com/bibliography/wilton-ivie Retrieved July-29-2014
  8. ^ Sierwald, Petra; Bond, Jason E. "Current Status of the Myriapod Class Diplopoda (Millipedes): Taxonomic Diversity and Phylogeny". Annual Review of Entomology 52 (1): 401–420. doi:10.1146/annurev.ento.52.111805.090210. 
  9. ^ Sullivan, Walter (Oct. 27, 1972). "Museum Gets 250,000 Spiders". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Hoffman, R. L. (1999). "Checklist of the millipeds of North and Middle America". Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publications 8: 1–553. 
  11. ^ Chamberlin, R. V. (1911). "The ethno-botany of the Gosiute Indians of Utah". Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association 2: 330–384. 
  12. ^ Fowler, Catherine S. (2000). "“We Live by Them” Native Knowledge of Biodiversity in the Great Basin of Western North America". In Minnis, Paul E.; Elisens, Wayne J. Biodiversity and Native America. Norman (Okla.): University of Oklahoma press. pp. 101–132. ISBN 0806133457. 
  13. ^ Chamberlin, R. V. (1909). "Some plant names of the Ute Indians". American Anthropologist 11: 27–40. 
  14. ^ Kerns, Virginia (2010). Journeys West: Jane and Julian Steward and Their Guides. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803228276. 
  15. ^ Chamberlin, R.V. (1960). The University of Utah, a History of its First Hundred years, 1850 to 1950. University of Utah Press. 

Further reading[edit]

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