Preface for centennial edition of The American Midland Naturalist.
When Father Nieuwland created The American Midland Naturalist, he did so with the intent of providing an outlet for studies about the natural history of the American Midwest. But both the subject matter and the geographic reach of the journal's articles soon grew beyond the bounds suggested by the title. Before it was even 15 y old, the journal was publishing material about subjects far from the Midwest, and the broad field of "natural history" was giving way to specialized fields of study and investigation. Most notable among those was the budding field of ecology. Already in those early days there was a recognition that activities in one sector of the environment were fundamentally inseparable from those in others.
To page chronologically through the 160 volumes of The American Midland Naturalist is to observe the growth and development of biological science over the last 100 y. From an abundance of articles in the early years describing and classifying plants, animals, other organisms and fossils in their natural states and habitats, the journal's contents have, like science itself, grown more numeric in their approach and more experimental. Occasionally the experimentation has been of unusual and daring nature. A former editor, Robert P. McIntosh, in a history of the journal's first 80 y, observed that the "devotion of natural historians to their cause was evident in [a 1971 article] when a panel of human tasters was assembled to determine the relative palatibility (sic) to predators of tadpoles from Costa Rica."
Both in its early years and more recently, The American Midland Naturalist has published some of the most eminent biological scientists of their times. Besides Nieuwland, who achieved his greatest fame in chemistry, but had a lifelong passion for botany, the early eminences who graced the journal's pages included E.L. Greene, the legendary plant taxonomist and historian of botany with whom Nieuwland had studied at Catholic University of America and later was a colleague at Notre Dame, and Lucy Braun, a plant ecologist who was to become the first woman president of the Ecological Society of America.
The farsightedness of The American Midland Naturalist and its then editor Theodore Just was demonstrated in Volume 21, No. 1, published in 1939. Virtually the entire number was given over to contributions from a landmark conference, "Plant and Animal Communities," held in August and September 1938 at Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.
Described later as an "ecological audit," the conference was, in McIntosh's words, "an attempt to bridge the gaps between American and European ecologists, plant and animal ecologists and aquatic and terrestrial ecologists." Ultimately, he said, the conference "failed of its unifying purpose," but the publication of the proceedings in The American Midland Naturalist was "a major contribution ... to the literature of ecology."
Publishing is one of the essential elements of the scientific method and a central activity of scholarly life in the modern university. Scholars do their research and perform their investigations. Then they publish the results for others to read, replicate and respond to. By this method, human knowledge is improved and expanded.
The American Midland Naturalist is a relatively rare example of a scholarly journal published under the aegis and with the financial support of a university, as opposed to a learned society. Notre Dame can be justly proud of the role this journal has played--and continues to play--in the advancement of biological science in the academy.
Notre Dame also must be grateful to Father Nieuwland and his successor editors for producing a journal that demonstrates the commitment of a Catholic university to scientific investigation and publication at the very highest levels. The notion that religious commitment in general, and Catholicism in particular, are inimical to scientific understanding of nature and the universe is an ancient canard, but one that seems to gain currency again each time there is controversy over such matters as "creationism" and "intelligent design."
Faith and reason, religion and science are not incompatible, but complementary. That conviction has animated Notre Dame's commitment to The American Midland Naturalist for 100 y. We expect it will continue to do so.
In 2005, The American Midland Naturalist formally added a subtitle: An International Journal of Ecology, Evolution and Environment. The emphasis signaled by that new description is as old as Earth Day and as current as the topic of this year's Notre Dame Forum, "Building a Sustainable Energy Future." It bespeaks our University's determination to put sound, scientific knowledge at the service of humankind's efforts to live in grace and harmony with the natural world that God has given us as a home.
REV. JOHN I. JENKINS, C.S.C. AND THOMAS G. BURISH
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|Author:||Jenkins, John I.; Burish, Thomas G.|
|Publication:||The American Midland Naturalist|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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