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Marine biology, intertidal ecology, and a new place for biology


At the present time, there is considerable interest for the physical setting of science, that is, its actual ‘place’ of practice. Among historians of biology, place has been considered to be a crucial component for the study of ecology. Other historians have noted the ‘built’ environments (laboratories) for the study of biology along the seashore, even referring to these places in terms more applicable to vacation sites. In this paper, I examine the place of intertidal ecology investigations, both in terms of the physical space and the built space. Part of the examination will investigate the aesthetic aspect of the Pacific Coast, part will evaluate the unique character of the intertidal zone, and part will consider the construction of natural laboratories and built laboratories as characteristic places for biology.

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  1. Christiane Groeben has written extensively about the early history of the Stazione Zoologica, including discussions of the role of Lo Bianco and his fishermen colleagues, and the role of the Stazione in providing a setting for new biological methods. Unlike many historians of biology, her work does not place the Stazione at the center of a debate between descriptive biology and experimental biology.

  2. Cowles came to the Friday Harbor marine laboratory on the invitation of his former student, T. C. Frye and then taught the first course offered in intertidal ecology in 1906. It was Cowles who then directed Victor Shelford to the same marine laboratory and Shelford continued to work there every other summer through 1928.

  3. Ricketts’s book is notable for many reasons. First, it was the initial book to depart from simply naming and describing the organisms that inhabited the coastline, and instead grouped them according to the coastal habitat (rocky shoreline, estuary, sandy beach, etc.). Second, it has sold over 100,000 copies, is in its fifth edition, and remains in print. As such, it is by far the most popular work on intertidal life.

  4. It is most instructive to read the original 1941 edition of the Log of the Sea of Cortez, which lists both John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts as authors. In this version, both supposedly collaborated closely, although the book was structured after Ricketts notebooks. The later edition (1951) appeared after Ricketts had died, with John Steinbeck as author. It was this edition that contributed to the fame of the journey.

  5. Both volumes contain the bulk of Ricketts unpublished manuscripts, in particular those he was preparing for his third book, the one that never appeared.


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Correspondence to Keith R. Benson.

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Benson, K.R. Marine biology, intertidal ecology, and a new place for biology. HPLS 36, 312–320 (2015).

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  • Place
  • Aesthetics
  • Marine biology
  • Ecology