One hundred and fifty years of palaeobotany at Manchester University
The year 2001 marked the 150th anniversary of the appointment of William Crawford Williamson to the Chair of Natural History at Owens College, which later became the Victoria University of Manchester. Since 1851 a palaeobotanical presence in Manchester has been continuous, apart from 1940 to 1950. The history of the various incumbents in academic posts and their contributions are charted and discussed. They include Williamson, Weiss, Lang, Stopes, Walton and Watson. Other palaeobotanists associated with Manchester were students, museum staff or incumbents of various ancillary appointments, and there were many distinguished visitors. The total number of students registered for higher degrees is remarkably few, nearly half studying with Watson in the past 20 years. The proportion of women palaeobotanists, counting staff and postgraduate students, is very high. The research output from Manchester includes most British fossil floras, and impressive attention to devising and improving laboratory techniques from Williamson to the present day. There is evidence that palaeobotany in Manchester has been considered an anachronism even from Williamson’s time and it now faces extinction in 2005.
Figures & Tables
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.