Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 387-427

First online:

Ernst Mayr as community architect: Launching the society for the study of evolution and the journalEvolution

  • Joseph CainAffiliated withProgram in History of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Ernst Mayr's contributions to 20th century biology extend far beyond his defense of certain elements in evolutionary theory. At the center of mid-century efforts in American evolutionary studies to build large research communities, Mayr spearheaded campaigns to create a Society for the Study of Evolution and a dedicated journal,Evolution, in 1946. Begun to offset the prominence ofDrosophila biology and evolutionary genetics, these campaigns changed course repeatedly, as impediments appeared, tactics shifted, and compromises built a growing coalition of support. Preserved, however, were designs to “balance” the community and journal with careful equation of status and explicit partitioning of responsibilities within the working coalition. Choice terms such as “cooperation” and “unity” carried a strong political message. Mayr's editorship ofEvolution provides a superb example of these “balancing” efforts. The mid-century infrastructural activities described herein also represented aggressive attempts to leverage control across several layers of community. Leaders of these campaigns sought: (1) to promote evolutionary studies as a modernized research discipline and place it at the center of American biology, (2) to promote evolutionary studies within existing disciplines — e.g. systematics, genetics, and paleontology, (3) to foster certain research styles within evolutionary studies, and (4) to emphasize certain solutions to prominent research questions. Throughout, Mayr interjected his priorities, tactics and energy.

Key words

evolutionary synthesis infrastructure professional societies research community twentieth century American biology