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Constantine Samuel Rafinesque

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque
Born October 22, 1783
Galata, Constantinople
Died September 18, 1840 (aged 56)
Philadelphia
Nationality France
Fields biologist
Author abbreviation (botany) Raf.

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, as he is known in Europe, (October 22, 1783-September 18, 1840) was a nineteenth-century polymath who made notable contributions to the study of prehistoric earthworks in North America, Mesoamerican ancient linguistics, and botany and zoology. His personal life was erratic.

Many have called him a genius; he was also an eccentric autodidact. He was very successful in various fields of knowledge, as a zoologist, botanist, malacologist, meteorologist, writer, evolutionist, polyglot, and translator. He wrote prolifically on such diverse topics as anthropology, biology, geology, and linguistics; but was honored in none during his lifetime. Today, scholars agree that he was far ahead of his time in many of these fields.

Contents

Biography

Rafinesque was born in Galata, a suburb of Constantinople. His father F.G. Rafinesque was a French merchant from Marseilles. His mother M. Schmaltz was of German descent and born in Constantinople. Rafinesque spent his youth in Marseilles and was mostly self-educated. By the age of twelve, he had learned botanical Latin and had begun collecting plants for a herbarium.

In 1802, at the age of nineteen, Rafinesque went to America, where he made the acquaintance of most of the young nation's few botanists. In 1805 he returned to Europe and settled in Palermo, Sicily. He became so successful in trade that he could retire by age twenty-five and devote his time entirely to natural history. For a time Rafinesque also worked as secretary to the American consul. During his stay in Sicily he studied plants and fishes, naming many species of each.

Career in the United States

In 1815, after his son died, Rafinesque left his common-law wife and returned to the United States. When his ship Union foundered near the coast of Connecticut, he lost all his books (50 boxes) and all his specimens (including more than 60,000 shells.) Settling in New York, Rafinesque became a founding member of the newly established "Lyceum of Natural History." By 1818, he had collected and named more than 250 new species of plants and animals. Slowly he was rebuilding his collection of objects from nature.

To observe and compare, to correct or approve by good names and new facts that convince and improve.

In 1819 Rafinesque became professor of botany at Transylvania University, Lexington (Kentucky), where he also gave private lessons in French and Italian. He started recording all the new species of plants and animals he encountered in travels throughout the state. In 1817 his book Florula Ludoviciana drew severe criticism from fellow botanists, which caused his writings to be ignored. He was considered an erratic student of higher plants. In the spring of 1826 he left the university after quarreling with its president.

Rafinesque moved to Philadelphia without employment. There he gave public lectures and continued publishing, mostly at his own expense. His book Medical Flora, a Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America (1828-1830) became his most financially successful work. In Herbarium Rafinesquianum, he described numerous new plants.

He also became interested in the collections of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Among them, he gave scientific names to the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), the White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and the Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus).

In books published between 1836 and 1838, Rafinesque proposed hundreds of new genera and thousands of new species in the major floristic regions of the world. Most of these names were not accepted by the scientific community.

Atlantic Journal (1832-1833)

From his intense study, Rafinesque concluded that man's need to classify was the origin of the taxonomic categories called species and genera; that is, that they are man-made generalizations that have no physical existence. He was deeply appreciative of variation in plants. He understood that such variation, through time, will lead to the development of what we call new species. But he had no explanation for the cause of variation, though he did consider hybridity a possible mechanism. He appeared to have some perception of mutation, but never named the concept. He did not develop a theory of evolution earlier than Darwin, as sometimes has been claimed, because Rafinesque had no concept of natural selection and his understanding of geological time was far too shallow.

Walam Olum

In 1836 Rafinesque published his first volume of The American Nations. This included Walam Olum, a purported migration and creation narrative of the Lenape ("Delaware Indians"). It told of their migration to the lands around the Delaware River. Rafinesque claimed he had obtained wooden tablets engraved and painted with indigenous pictographs, together with a transcription in the Lenape language, which he was able to use to produce an English translation of the tablets' contents. Rafinesque claimed the original tablets and transcription were later lost, leaving his notes and transcribed copy as the only record of evidence.

For over a century after Rafinesque's publication, the Walam Olum was widely accepted by ethnohistorians as authentic and Native American in origin. As early as 1849, some scholars professed skepticism. In the 1950s the Indiana Historical Society published a "re-translation" of the Walam Olum, as "a worthy subject for students of aboriginal culture".[1]

But, later linguistic, ethnohistorical, archaeological and textual analyses—particularly from the 1980s and 1990s onward— tended towards the view that the Walam Olum account was largely or entirely a fabrication. They described its record of authentic Lenape traditional migration stories as spurious. After the publication in 1995 of David Oestreicher's thesis, The Anatomy of the Walam Olum: A 19th Century Anthropological Hoax, many scholars concurred with his analysis, and concluded that Rafinesque had been either the perpetrator, or perhaps the victim, of a hoax. Other scholars, writers, and some among the Lenape continue to find the account plausible and maintain its authenticity.

Study of prehistoric cultures

Rafinesque's made a notable contribution to North American prehistory with his studies of ancient earthworks, especially in the Ohio Valley. He was first to label these the "Ancient Monuments of America." He listed more than 500 such archaeological sites, many of which have since been obliterated by competing development. Rafinesque never excavated. Rather, he recorded the sites visited by careful measurements, sketches, and written descriptions. Only a few of his descriptions found publication, but his work was used by others. For instance, he identified 148 sites in Kentucky. All of those included by E. G. Squier and Davis from that state in their famous Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848) came from his manuscripts.

Rafinesque also made contributions to Mesoamerican studies. The latter were based on linguistic data he could extract from printed sources, mostly those of travelers. He designated as Taino the ancient language of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Others later used the term to identify the ethnicity of indigenous Caribbean peoples.

Although mistaken in his presumption that the ancient Maya script was alphabetical in nature, Rafinesque was probably first to insist that studying modern Mayan languages could lead to unraveling of the ancient script. In 1832 he was the first to decipher ancient Maya. He explained that its bar-and-dot symbols represent fives and ones, respectively.[2][3])

Death

Rafinesque died of stomach cancer in Philadelphia. He was buried in Ronaldson's cemetery. Unfortunately his considerable collections were sold as junk or destroyed.

In March 1924 what were thought to be his remains were brought back to Transylvania University and reinterred in a tomb under a stone inscribed, "Honor to whom honor is overdue."

Legacy

In 1841 Thomas Nuttall proposed, in his honor, the genus name Rafinesquia, (family Asteraceae), with two species. Rafinesque himself had proposed this name twice, but was each time turned down. In 1853 Asa Gray named the second species.

  • Rafinesquia californica Nutt. (California Plumeseed, California Chicory)
  • Rafinesquia neomexicana A.Gray (Desert Chicory, Plumeseed)

His scientific work has been gaining more recognition in recent years.

Major works

All of Rafinesque's malacological writings, including all his plates, can be found in the comprehensive book:

Many of these works are available on line at Gallica and the Library of Congress.

Correspondence

  • Betts, Edwin M., "The Correspondence between Constantine Samuel Rafinesque and Thomas Jefferson." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 87, No. 5, 1944.
  • Boewe, Charles. "Editing Rafinesque Holographs: the Case of the [Charles Wilkins] Short Letters." Filson Club History Quarterly, Vol. 54, 1980.

Notes

  1. ^ Walam Olum: or, Red Score, The Migration Legend of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. See Voegelin et al. (1954)
  2. ^ Nova-"Cracking the Maya Code"
  3. ^ Stephen D. Houston. The decipherment of ancient Maya writing, 2001.
  4. ^ "Author Query". International Plant Names Index. http://www.ipni.org/ipni/authorsearchpage.do.  
  5. ^ Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel (1817). Florula ludoviciana; or, A flora of the state of Louisiana. New York: C. Wiley & Co.. http://books.google.com/books?id=t8kYAAAAYAAJ. Retrieved 2009-04-02.  

References

Boewe, Charles (Ed.). 1982. Fitzpatrick's Rafinesque: A Sketch of His Life with Bibliography, revised by Charles Boewe. M & S Press, Weston, MA.
Boewe, Charles (Ed.). 2001. Mantissa: A Supplement to Fitzpatrick's Rafinesque. M & S Press, Providence, RI.
Boewe, Charles (Ed.). 2003. Profiles of Rafinesque. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.
Boewe, Charles 2004. C.S. Rafinesque and Ohio Valley Archaeology. Center for Ancient American Studies, Barnardsville, NC.
Boewe, Charles (Ed.). 2005. A C.S. Rafinesque Anthology. McFarland & Co., Jefferson, NC.
Call, Richard Ellsworth (1895) (Electronic reproduction [2002], Kentuckiana Digital Library). The Life and Writings of Rafinesque: Prepared for the Filson Club and read at its Meeting, Monday, April 2, 1894. Filson Club Publications, no. 10 (author's edition ed.). Louisville, KY: John P. Morton. OCLC 51849712. http://kdl.kyvl.org/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=kyetexts;cc=kyetexts;view=toc;idno=b92-46-26946886.  
Dupre, Huntley. 1945. Rafinesque in Lexington, 1819-1826. Bur Press, Lexington, KY.
Fitzpatrick, T. J. 1911. Rafinesque: A Sketch of His Life with Bibliography. Historical Department of Iowa, Des Moines, IA.
Holthuis, L.B. 1954. С. S. Rafinesque as a carcinologist : an annotated compilation of the information on Crustacea contained in the works of that author. PDF
Holthuis, L.B. 1955. A supplementary note on the Carcinological work of C. S. Rafinesque PDF
Indiana Historical Society 1954. Walam Olum or Red Score. Lakeside Press, Chicago.
Merrill, Elmer D. 1949. Index Rafinesquianus. Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA. (Indexes Rafinesque's plant names.)
Oestreicher, David M. (2005). "The Tale of a Hoax: Translating the Walam Olum". in Brian Swann (ed.). Algonquian Spirit: Contemporary Translations of the Algonquian Literatures of North America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 3–41. ISBN 0-8032-4314-6. OCLC 58721152.  
Sloan, De Villo (2008). The Crimsoned Hills of Onondaga: Romantic Antiquarians and the Euro-American Invention of Native American Prehistory. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press. ISBN 978-1-60497-503-1. OCLC 183392534.  
Sterling, K. B. (Ed.). 1978. Rafinesque. Autobiography and Lives. Arno Press, New York, NY. (Reprints Rafinesque's autobiography and the books by Call and Fitzpatrick.)
Stuckey, Ronald L.. 1971. "The first public auction of an American herbarium including an account of the fate of the Baldwin, Collins, and Rafinesque herbaria". Taxon 20(4):443-459.
[Voegelin, C.F.; (trans.), with contributions by Eli Lilly, Erminie Voegelin, Joe E. Pierce, Paul Weer, Glenn A. Black, and Georg K. Neumann] (1954). Walam Olum; or, Red Score, the Migration Legend of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. A new translation, interpreted by linguistic, historical, archaeological, ethnological, and physical anthropological studies (Pictographs and Lenape text, after C. Rafinesque ed.). Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. OCLC 1633009.  
Rafinesque, Prof. C. S. (1836). Flora telluriana Pars Prima First Part of the Synoptical Flora Telluriana, Centuries I, II, III, IV. With new Natural Classes, Orders and families: containing the 2000 New or revised Genera and Species of Trees, Palms, Shrubs, Vines, Plants, Lilies, Grasses, Ferns, Algas, Fungi, & c. from North and South America, Polynesia, Australia, Asia Europe and Africa, omitted or mistaken by the authors, that were observed or ascertained, described or revised, collected or figured, between 1796 and 1836.. 1. Philadelphia: H. Probasco. http://www.us.archive.org/GnuBook/?id=floratelluriana00rafi#13. Retrieved 2009-04-02.  
Rafinesque, Prof. C. S. (1836). Flora telluriana Pars Secunda Second Part of the Synoptical Flora Telluriana, Centuries V, VI, VII, VIII. With new Natural Classes, Orders and families: containing the 2000 New or revised Genera and Species of Trees, Palms, Shrubs, Vines, Plants, Lilies, Grasses, Ferns, Algas, Fungi, & c. from North and South America, Polynesia, Australia, Asia Europe and Africa, omitted or mistaken by the authors, that were observed or ascertained, described or revised, collected or figured, between 1796 and 1836.. 1. Philadelphia: H. Probasco. http://www.us.archive.org/GnuBook/?id=floratelluriana00rafi#125. Retrieved 2009-04-02.  
Rafinesque, Prof. C. S. (1836). Flora telluriana Pars Tertia Third Part of the Synoptical Flora Telluriana, Centuries V, VI, VII, VIII. With new Natural Classes, Orders and families: containing the 2000 New or revised Genera and Species of Trees, Palms, Shrubs, Vines, Plants, Lilies, Grasses, Ferns, Algas, Fungi, & c. from North and South America, Polynesia, Australia, Asia Europe and Africa, omitted or mistaken by the authors, that were observed or ascertained, described or revised, collected or figured, between 1796 and 1836.. 3. Philadelphia: H. Probasco. http://www.us.archive.org/GnuBook/?id=floratelluriana00rafi#241. Retrieved 2009-04-02.  
Rafinesque, Prof. C. S. (1836). Flora telluriana Pars IV Et Ult. Fourth and Last Part of the Synoptical Flora Telluriana, Centuries IX, X, XI, XII. With new Natural Classes, Orders and families: containing the 2000 New or revised Genera and Species of Trees, Palms, Shrubs, Vines, Plants, Lilies, Grasses, Ferns, Algas, Fungi, & c. from North and South America, Polynesia, Australia, Asia Europe and Africa, omitted or mistaken by the authors, that were observed or ascertained, described or revised, collected or figured, between 1796 and 1836.. 4. Philadelphia: H. Probasco. http://www.us.archive.org/GnuBook/?id=floratelluriana00rafi#345. Retrieved 2009-04-02.  

External links


Wikispecies

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

(22.X.1783 - 18.IX.1840)

American naturalist.








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