Nathaniel Shaler

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Nathaniel Southgate Shaler
Picture of Nathaniel Shaler.jpg
Nathaniel Shaler in 1894.
Born (1841-02-20)February 20, 1841
Newport, Kentucky
Died April 10, 1906(1906-04-10) (aged 65)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard College
Scientific career
Fields Paleontology, Geology
Institutions Lawrence Scientific School
Doctoral advisor Louis Agassiz
Signature of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler.jpg

Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (February 20, 1841 – April 10, 1906)[1] was an American paleontologist and geologist who wrote extensively on the theological and scientific implications of the theory of evolution.


Born in 1841, Shaler studied at Harvard College's Lawrence Scientific School under Louis Agassiz.[2] After graduating in 1862, Shaler went on to become a Harvard fixture in his own right, as lecturer (1868), professor of paleontology for two decades (1869–1888) and as professor of geology for nearly two more (1888–1906).[3] Beginning in 1891, he was dean of the Lawrence School.[1] Shaler was appointed director of the Kentucky Geological Survey in 1873, and devoted a part of each year until 1880 to that work.[4] In 1884 he was appointed geologist to the U.S. Geological Survey in charge of the Atlantic division.[5] He was commissioner of agriculture for Massachusetts at different times, and was president of the Geological Society of America in 1895.[1] He also served two years as a Union officer in the American Civil War.[5]

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[6] to other animals, such as ants.[7] 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.[8] 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."[9]

In his later career, Shaler served as Harvard's Dean of Sciences and was considered one of the university's most popular teachers.[10] He published scores of long and short treatises in his lifetime, with subjects ranging from topographical surveys to moral philosophy.


  • (1870). On the Phosphate Beds of South Carolina.
  • (1876–82). Geological Survey of Kentucky [6 vols.]
  • (1876). Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Kentucky.
  • (1878). Thoughts on the Nature of Intellectual Property and its Importance to the State.
  • (1880). "The Geology of Boston and its Environs," in The Memorial History of Boston.
  • (1881). Illustrations of the Earth's Surface; Glaciers [with William Morris Davis].
  • (1884). A First Book in Geology.
  • (1885). Kentucky, a Pioneer Commonwealth ["American Commonwealth Series"].
  • (1891). Nature and Man in America.
  • (1892). The Story of Our Continent.
  • (1893). The Interpretation of Nature.
  • (1894). The United States of America [2 vols.]
  • (1895). Domesticated Animals.
  • (1895). The Geology of the Road-Building Stones of Massachusetts.
  • (1896). American Highways.
  • (1898). Geology of the Cape Cod District.
  • (1898). Outlines of the Earth's History.
  • (1899). Geology of the Narragansett Basin.
  • (1900). The Individual: Study of Life and Death.
  • (1903). A Comparison of the Features of the Earth and the Moon.
  • (1904). The Citizen: A Study of the Individual and the Government.
  • (1904). The Neighbor.
  • (1905). Man and the Earth.
  • (1909). The Autobiography of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler.[12]
  • (1903). Elizabeth of England: A Dramatic Romance in Five Parts.
  • (1906). From Old Fields: Poems of the Civil War.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Shaler, Nathaniel Southgate". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  2. ^ Cooper, Lane (1917). "How Agassiz Taught Professor Shaler," in Louis Agassiz as a Teacher. New York: The Comstock Publishing Co., pp. 14-26.
  3. ^ George P. Merrill and Eleanor R. Dobson (1935). "Shaler, Nathaniel Southgate". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  4. ^ Zabilka, Ivan L. (1980). "Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and the Kentucky Geological Survey," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 80, No. 4, pp. 408-431.
  5. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Shaler, Nathaniel Southgate". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  6. ^ Darwin, Charles (1881). The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms, with observations on their habits. London: John Murray. 
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Livingstone, David N. (1987). Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and the Culture of American Science. University of Alabama Press, pp. 124-125.
  9. ^ Shaler, N.S. (1884). "The Negro Problem," Atlantic Monthly, p. 697-698.
  10. ^ Bacon, H. Philip (1955). "Fireworks in the Classroom: Nathaniel Southgate Shaler as a Teacher," Journal of Geography 54, p. 350.
  11. ^ IPNI.  Shaler. 
  12. ^ Cole, Grenville A. J. (6 January 1910). "Review of The Autobiography of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler". Nature. 82 (2097): 274–275. Bibcode:1910Natur..82..274C. doi:10.1038/082274a0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Adams, Michael C.C. (1998). "'When the Man knows Death': The Civil War Poems of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 1–28.
  • Bladen, Wilford A. (1983). "Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and Early American Geography," in Pradyumna P. Karan (ed.), The Evolution of Geographic Thought in America: A Kentucky Root. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
  • Berg, Walter (1957). Nathaniel Southgate Shaler: A Critical Study of an Earth Scientist. Ph.D. thesis, University of Washington.
  • Davis, William M. (1906). "Nathaniel Southgate Shaler," Educational Foundations 17 (10), pp. 746–755.
  • Koelsch, William A. (1979). "Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, 1841-1906", in T.W. Freeman & Philippe Pinchemel (ed.), Geographer: Bibliographical Studies, Vol. III. London: Mansell.
  • Lane, A. C. (1926). "Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (1841-1906)," Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 61, No. 12, pp. 557–561.
  • Livingstone, D. N. (1980). "Nature and Man in America: Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and the Conservation of Natural Resources," Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 369–382.
  • Thayer, William Roscoe (1906). "Nathaniel Southgate Shaler," The Harvard Graduates Magazine 15, pp. 1–9.
  • Warner, Langdon (1906). "Nathaniel Southgate Shaler," The World's Work 12, pp. 7676–7677.

External links[edit]