Portrait of a genteel biologist: Charles Sedgwick Minot



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Why does science tend to flourish in certain societies and languish in others? Why is the charge of scarcity often leveled against nineteenth-century American science? While a full answer to these questions lies beyond the scope of this thesis, the career of the Victorian biologist Charles Sedgwick Minot offers some interesting insights into these historical problems. A background of social and educational opportunity provided Dr. Minot decided advantages in his scientific pursuits. But this was a mixed blessing because his administrative abilities and social stratum heaped responsibilities upon him which taxed his energies and diverted his chief interest in doing science. His Brahmin hostility toward the rise of political and social democracy translated itself into a cultural provincialism which carried over into his professional career. While extolling the benefits of science, he only reluctantly acquiesced in opening the ranks of science to less advantaged members of American society. These tendencies are best illustrated in his activities on behalf of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where some of America's foremost biologists such as Thomas Hunt Morgan received invaluable professional training. Professor Minot's contributions to embryology, histology and medical education are unquestioned. The latter success came only through great personal courage and perseverance. However some of his activities in the organizational aspects of science seemed reminiscent of a dying provincialism which reached a zenith with the exclusive club of nineteenth century American scientists called the "Lazzaroni." Fortunately, all these potential threats to American science faltered, and America emerged in the twentieth century as a scientific leader among the nations of the world.



History, United States, Education, Biology, Nineteenth century, Minot, Charles Sedgwick, 1852-1914