Osgood Files

Wilfred Hudson Osgood (1875-1947), one of the most acclaimed curators ever to serve on the Field Museum staff, first came to the museum as assistant curator of mammals and birds in 1909, after serving as assistant biologist in the Biological Survey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1921, he became chief curator of Zoology, a post he held until retiring in 1941. He remained active thereafter as curator emeritus. During the course of his remarkable career, he produced 205 papers and books.

Osgood made many contributions to systematic mammalogy (the study of evolutionary relationships among mammals). Perhaps the greatest of these was an understanding of populations. Unlike other taxonomists of his day, who routinely named individual variants as subspecies, species, and even genera, Osgood recognized the natural variation within populations as an integral aspect of systematics, something to be understood in terms of environmental conditions and history, and as the raw material for natural selection. His approach to nomenclature is well-documented in his first two generic revisions, that of the pocket mice (Perognathus) published in 1900 and of the deer mice (Peromyscus) published in 1909.Osgood examined some 3000 specimens in the course of the former work and some 27,000 specimens during work on the latter. In doing so, he erected a standard still current in systematic mammalogy. It should come as no surprise that subsequent revisions of these genera have found little to improve upon.

Like other great systematists, Osgood based his studies on extensive fieldwork. During his career, he made 30 expeditions of varying durations that carried him to the far corners of the globe. Fieldwork gave Osgood a first-hand knowledge of his material that could never be achieved through the study of museum specimens alone. The journals of his expeditions, comprising 26 volumes in the Museum's General Library, contain a wealth of natural history information as well as his impressions of people and places now remote in space and time.

While preparing for my own fieldwork in the Chilean Archipelago, which began last month (January [1983]), I consulted Osgood's account of his trip there as leader of the Marshall Field Chilean Expedition of 1922-23. Osgood began fieldwork on Isla Chiloé, a large island some 600 miles south of Valparaíso, the biota of which had last been studies by Charles Darwin during his Beagle voyage. Darwin's collections on the islands in 1834 had been the basis for many scientific names, and Osgood wished to investigate this biota more fully. Accompanied by Colin C. Sanborn and Boardman Conover of Field Museum, and by Luis Moreira of Chile's National Museum in Santiago, Osgood spent six weeks on Chiloé, assembling the first North American collection of Chilean mammals. The specimens he collected there would later prove to contain a genus, a species, and three subspecies new to science.

[text of: Patterson, B.D. 1983. The journal of Wilfred Osgood: The Marshall Field Chilean Expedition of 1922-23. Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 54(2): 8-11; 28-33.] http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/4350303

A word about the journals

Osgood would write in them in script, filling the right-hand pages. At the end of the volume, he would flip it over and continue that practice. Presumably this prevented freshly inked pages from blotting each other. The result was a product that looked like this:

the type script has been taken from hand-written journals. The volumes themselves look like this

with Dec 3, 1922 on page 69, and the later entry, Mar 20, 1923 upside down and on the preceding page (p 68). This accounts for the somewhat erratic numbering designations interspersed with Osgood's text in the linked typescript.

These hyperlinks

will take you to the actual journal entries. This project was originally intended for a publication outlet like Mastozoología Neotropical: Publicaciones Especiales, but perhaps will find more readers here. The project would never have happened without the assistance of volunteer Michelle Eigi--thanks Michelle, wherever you are now!!