Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2008 | Features

Unearthing Great Stories

By Carol Harker
Remarkable adventurers helped shape the UI's natural history collections.

A few years ago, Emeritus Professor Brian Glenister allowed me to accompany his Senior College class on its field trip to the Devonian Fossil Gorge just north of Iowa City. The day was Iowa-perfect and Dr. Glenister, 56PhD, was in his element--pointing out crinoids and corals, shark teeth, bivalves, and trilobites in the bedrock.

It was heartwarming to see his students, all retirees from the area and many former university faculty themselves, as they explored. Many of them were probably recalling childhood forays into the woods and along streams, when their curiosity led them to pick up and examine similar fossils and other findings.

Early on in the life of the University of Iowa, a few academic explorers helped the institution amass tons of natural material for scientific study and display. Samuel Calvin, Thomas Huston Macbride, Charles C. Nutting, and Bohumil Shimek, 1883E, 1902MS, were foremost among those scientists-collectors.

Calvin, a native of Scotland, was a veteran of America's Civil War and the first of the quartet to work for the university. At that time, in 1873, he taught all the natural science classes offered at the State University of Iowa.

The university's natural history collections were pretty meager, though, so Calvin transferred his own private collection to form the core of the Paleontology Repository. His specimens remain on file, a resource for today's students and scholars.

Together, Calvin, Macbride, Nutting, and Shimek laid the foundation for the study of science at Iowa, inspiring students like Frank Russell, 1892BS, 1895MS, and Viljhalmur Stefansson to undertake grueling expeditions of their own.

Carol Harker
Editor in Chief