Harry Godwin

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Harry Godwin
Born(1901-05-09)9 May 1901
Died12 August 1985(1985-08-12) (aged 84)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Known forPeat Archives[1]
AwardsPrestwich Medal (1951)
Linnean Medal (1966)[2]
Albrecht-Penck-Medaille (1982)
Fellow of the Royal Society[3]
Scientific career
Notable studentsNick Shackleton
InfluencesArthur Tansley[4]

Sir Harry Godwin, FRS[3] (9 May 1901 – 12 August 1985) was a prominent English botanist and ecologist of the 20th century. He is considered to be an influential peatland scientist,[5] who coined the phrase "peat archives" in 1981.[1][6] He had a long association with Clare College, Cambridge.

Early life[edit]

Godwin was born in Yorkshire and soon after moved to Long Eaton, Derbyshire. He had a successful school career and gained a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge in 1918, gaining his PhD in 1926. He was to be closely involved with Clare College for the rest of his life. It was at this time that he first made friends with the ecologist Arthur Tansley who was to be an important influence on Godwin for many years.


In the early 1930s Harry and his wife Margaret were "dynamic botanists" who, together with the archaeologist Grahame Clark, led a small group of young academics at the University of Cambridge which aimed to gain a deeper understanding of the environment of past societies by integrating archaeological knowledge with new scientific techniques in geology and plant sciences, instead of the traditional archaeologists' study of artefacts in isolation.[7]

His work began in botany and plant physiology, and he continued this throughout his career, eventually becoming Professor of Botany (1960–1967). However his most notable work was in the development of the science of ecology, which was, at the start of his career, in its infancy. He was an early exponent of the study of ecological successions,[8] such as in the fen wetlands at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, where he established the Godwin Plots which can be still seen there today. He was the founder and first director of the Subdepartment of Quaternary Research at the University of Cambridge in 1948, where he supervised pioneering work on the new technique of radiocarbon dating.

Harry Godwin was a stimulating teacher and researcher. His students include many famous practitioners including Richard West, Sir Nick Shackleton, Joakim Donner and many others.

Peat archives[edit]

Authors Rydin and Jeglum in Biology of Habitats described the concept of peat archives, a phrase coined by Godwin in 1981.[1][6]

"In a peat profile there is a fossilized record of changes over time in the vegetation, pollen, spores, animals (from microscopic to the giant elk), and archaeological remains that have been deposited in place, as well as pollen, spores and particles brought in by wind and weather. These remains are collectively termed the peat archives."


  1. ^ a b c Godwin 1981.
  2. ^ Linnean nd.
  3. ^ a b West, R. G. (1988). "Harry Godwin. 9 May 1901 – 12 August 1985". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 34: 260–292. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1988.0010. JSTOR 770053. S2CID 128402718.
  4. ^ Godwin, H. (1957). "Arthur George Tansley. 1871–1955". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 3: 227–246. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1957.0016. JSTOR 769363.
  5. ^ Keddy 2010, p. 70.
  6. ^ a b Rydin & Jeglum 2014.
  7. ^ Gaffney, Fitch & Smith 2009, pp. 17–21.
  8. ^ Godwin & Conway 1939.


  • Gaffney, Vincent; Fitch, Simon; Smith, David (2009). Europe's Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland. Council for British Archaeology.
  • Godwin, Sir Harry; Conway, V.M. (1939), The ecology of a raised bog near Tragaron
  • Godwin, Sir Harry (1981). The archives of the peat bogs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rydin, Håkan; Jeglum, John K. (18 July 2013) [8 Jun 2006]. The Biology of Peatlands. Biology of Habitats (2 ed.). University of Oxford Press. p. 400. ISBN 978-0198528722.
  • Keddy, P.A. (2010), Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation (2 ed.), Cambridge, UK.: Cambridge University Press, pp. 323–325
  • Linnean Medal recipients (PDF)