D.H. Scott and A.C. Seward: modern pioneers in the structure and architecture of fossil plants
Richard Wilding, 2005. "D.H. Scott and A.C. Seward: modern pioneers in the structure and architecture of fossil plants", History of Palaeobotany: Selected Essays, A.J. Bowden, C.V. Burek, R. Wilding
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The last 40 years of the 19th century saw a great expansion in the study of fossil plants. This was, in part, brought about by the growth of coal mining and the consequent increase in the discovery of plant remains from the Carboniferous Coal Measures. The interest in the evolution of life forms following Darwin’s theories, together with the development of the petrological microscope, also had their effect on the growth of this discipline. Among the pioneers of this growth of palaeobotany was the Canadian John William Dawson, who was the first to have a clear understanding of some of the earliest land plants from the Devonian. William Crawford Williamson, another of the 19th century pioneers, was also instrumental in forwarding the interests and careers of the two great palaeobotanists with which this paper is concerned — Dukenfield Henry Scott and Sir Albert Charles Seward.
Scott was the son of a distinguished architect, who studied botany as a boy and returned to the science after studying in Germany. Through Williamson’s influence he later took up palaeobotany, a field in which he was to distinguish himself, eventually becoming Honorary Director of the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew. His contributions to the science of palaeobotany were considerable. So were those of Albert Charles Seward, his near contemporary, who attained a high position and influence in palaeobotany through his own hard work and undoubted talents. He was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1898, and received a knighthood in 1936. He was Master of Downing College, Cambridge for 21 years from 1915, and in 1924 he became Vice Chancellor of the university. He wrote of the palaeobotany of many parts of the world, including Antarctica. Both Scott and Seward can be regarded as the forerunners of the great growth of the palaeobotanical work during the 20th century.
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Often regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies, palaeobotany has a history that contains some fascinating insights into scientific endeavour, especially by palaeontologists who were perusing a personal interest rather than a career. The problems of maintaining research facilities in universities, especially in the modern era, are described and reveal a noticeable absence of a national UK strategy to preserve centres of excellence in an avowedly specialist area. Accounts of some of the pioneers demonstrate the importance of collaboration between taxonomists and illustrators. The importance of palaeobotany in the rise of geoconservation is outlined, as well as the significant and influential role of women in the discipline. Although this volume has a predominantly UK focus, two very interesting studies outline the history of palaeobotanical work in Argentina and China.