Joel Asaph Allen

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Joel Asaph Allen
Joel Asaph Allen 1838-1921.png
Joel Asaph Allen
Born(1838-07-19)July 19, 1838
DiedAugust 29, 1921(1921-08-29) (aged 83)
Nationality American
Alma materHarvard University
Known for Allen's rule
Scientific career
Institutions American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Museum of Comparative Zoology
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Audubon Society
American Philosophical Society
Joel Asaph Allen seated at desk while reading in 1890 Joel Asaph Allen seated at desk while reading in 1890 detail, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing left LCCN91710140 (cropped).jpg
Joel Asaph Allen seated at desk while reading in 1890

Joel Asaph Allen (July 19, 1838 – August 29, 1921) was an American zoologist, mammalogist, and ornithologist. He became the first president of the American Ornithologists' Union, the first curator of birds and mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, and the first head of that museum's Department of Ornithology. He is remembered for Allen's rule, which states that the bodies of endotherms (warm-blooded animals) vary in shape with climate, having increased surface area in hot climates to lose heat, and minimized surface area in cold climates, to conserve heat.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Zoology study of the animal kingdom

Zoology is the branch of biology that studies the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct, and how they interact with their ecosystems. The term is derived from Ancient Greek ζῷον, zōion, i.e. "animal" and λόγος, logos, i.e. "knowledge, study".

Mammalogy the study of mammals

In zoology, mammalogy is the study of mammals – a class of vertebrates with characteristics such as homeothermic metabolism, fur, four-chambered hearts, and complex nervous systems. Mammalogy has also been known as "mastology," "theriology," and "therology." There are about 4,200 different species of mammals. The major branches of mammalogy include natural history, taxonomy and systematics, anatomy and physiology, ethology, ecology, and management and control. The approximate salary of a mammalogist varies from $20,000 to $60,000 a year, depending on their experience. Mammalogists are typically involved in activities such as conducting research, managing personnel, and writing proposals.


Early life

Allen was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Harriet Trumbull and Joel Allen. He studied and collected specimen of natural history early in life, but he was forced to sell his relatively large collection so that he could attend the Wilbraham & Monson Academy in 1861. The following year, he transferred to Harvard University, where he studied under Louis Agassiz. [1]

Springfield, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts

Springfield is a city in the state of Massachusetts, United States, and the seat of Hampden County. Springfield sits on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River near its confluence with three rivers: the western Westfield River, the eastern Chicopee River, and the eastern Mill River. As of the 2010 Census, the city's population was 153,060. As of 2018, the estimated population was 155,032, making it the third-largest city in Massachusetts, the fourth-most populous city in New England after Boston, Worcester, and Providence, and the 12th-most populous in the Northeastern United States. Metropolitan Springfield, as one of two metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, had a population of 692,942 as of 2010.

Wilbraham & Monson Academy

Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) is a college-preparatory school located in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. Founded in 1804, it is a four-year boarding and day high school for students in Grades 9-12 and postgraduate. A middle school, with Grades 6-8, offers boarding for Grade 8 students. The academy is located in the center of the town of Wilbraham, 75 miles from Boston and 150 miles from New York City. The program features small classes and 23 AP courses. Athletics include rugby, lacrosse, baseball, cross country, dance, wrestling, soccer, tennis, golf, football, basketball, track, riflery, volleyball, softball, water polo, crew and swimming.

Harvard University Private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

Career as a field collector of natural history

In 1865, he took part in his mentor's 1865 expedition to Brazil in search of evidence of an ice age there, which Agassiz later claimed to have found. After returning to Massachusetts, chronic ill health caused him to return to his family farm in Springfield. [2]

Brazil Federal republic in South America

Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in both South America and Latin America. At 8.5 million square kilometers and with over 208 million people, Brazil is the world's fifth-largest country by area and the fifth most populous. Its capital is Brasília, and its most populated city is São Paulo. The federation is composed of the union of the 26 states, the Federal District, and the 5,570 municipalities. It is the largest country to have Portuguese as an official language and the only one in the Americas; it is also one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse nations, due to over a century of mass immigration from around the world.

By 1867, Allen's health had improved enough that he went on a flurry of collecting trips, including at Sodus Bay, and in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. Upon his return to Massachusetts, he took the position of curator of birds and mammals at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. In the winter of 1868-1869, he was one of two ornithologists, the other being Charles Johnson Maynard, to explore the relatively unknown state of Florida, which was still very much a wilderness in the late 1860s. [2]

Sodus Bay

Sodus Bay is a bay on the south shore of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes. Sodus Bay is located in Wayne County, New York, USA. Most of the bay is in the Town of Huron, but the western part is in the Town of Sodus.

Museum of Comparative Zoology natural history museum at Harvard University

The Museum of Comparative Zoology, full name "The Louis Agassiz Museum of Comparative Zoology", often abbreviated simply to "MCZ", is the zoology museum located on the grounds of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is one of three natural history research museums at Harvard whose public face is the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Harvard MCZ's collections consist of some 21 million specimens, of which several thousand are on rotating display at the public museum. The current director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology is James Hanken, the Louis Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University.

Charles Johnson Maynard American naturalist

Charles Johnson Maynard was an American naturalist and ornithologist born in Newton, Massachusetts. He was a collector, a taxidermist, and an expert on the vocal organs of birds. In addition to birds, he also studied mollusks, moss, gravestones and insects. He lived in the house at 459 Crafts Street in Newton, Massachusetts, built in 1897 and included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 as the Charles Maynard House. The Charles Johnson Maynard Award is given out by the Newton Conservators, Inc.

When he returned, he wrote a celebrated analysis of his trip entitled On the Mammals and Winter Birds of Eastern Florida, which was published in 1871. That same year he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. [3]

American Academy of Arts and Sciences United States honorary society and center for independent policy research

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States. Founded in 1780, the Academy is dedicated to honoring excellence and leadership, working across disciplines and divides, and advancing the common good.

Joel Asaph Allen in 1920 Annual report of the trustees of the American Museum of Natural History for the year (1920) (18746957643).jpg
Joel Asaph Allen in 1920

For the next few years, Allen ventured to the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and Dakota Territory on collecting trips for Harvard's museum. Except for an 1882 collecting trip in Colorado with fellow ornithologist William Brewster, Allen never went field collecting again, primarily because of his fragile health. [2]

Great Plains broad expanse of flat land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada

The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:

Rocky Mountains mountain range in North America

The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 4,800 kilometers (3,000 mi) from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico in the Southwestern United States. Located within the North American Cordillera, the Rockies are somewhat distinct from the Pacific Coast Ranges, Cascade Range, and the Sierra Nevada, which all lie farther to the west.

Dakota Territory territory of the USA between 1861-1889

The Territory of Dakota was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from March 2, 1861, until November 2, 1889, when the final extent of the reduced territory was split and admitted to the Union as the states of North and South Dakota.

Career as a researcher and natural historian

Following the end of his field-collecting days, Allen dedicated his life to research and editorial publication. In the early summer of 1876, Allen was elected by the Nuttall Ornithological Club to replace Charles Johnson Maynard and Henry Augustus Purdie as editor of their Bulletin. In 1883, Allen, along with William Brewster and Elliott Coues, created the American Ornithologists' Union. Allen, who was suffering ill health, was unable to attend their inaugural meeting, but was elected their first president, nonetheless. He also became the chief editor of their journal, The Auk. [2]

In 1885, he was appointed as the first curator of birds and mammals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, later becoming the first head of the museum's Department of Ornithology. In 1886, he was one of the incorporators of the first Audubon Society, New York City. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and of the American Philosophical Society. [4]

The hundreds of letters which Elliott Coues sent to him over many decades form one of the cornerstones of the history of American ornithology. Allen famously memorialized Coues [5] in the pages of The Auk , the union's journal, after the latter's death in 1899. He formulated what is now known as Allen's rule, stating a correlation between body shape and climate, in 1877. [6] [7]


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  1. Allen, Joel Asaph (1916). Autobiographical notes and a bibliography of the scientific publications of Joel Asaph Allen. New York: American Museum of Natural History.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Chapman, Frank M. (1922). "In Memoriam: Joel Asaph Allen" (PDF). Auk. 39 (1): 1–14.
  3. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  4. "Whonamedit - dictionary of medical eponyms". Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  5. Allen, Joel Asaph. Biographical Memoir of Elliott Coues 1842-1899 . National Academy of Sciences, 1909.
  6. Allen, Joel Asaph (1877). "The influence of Physical conditions in the genesis of species". Radical Review. 1: 108–140.
  7. Lopez, Barry Holstun (1986). Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. Scribner. ISBN   0-684-18578-4.