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You Should Know: John Edmonstone

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Welcome to the fifth installment of You Should Know, where I give my own #ScholarSunday salute to Science Bloggers and Blogs you may not yet know about. But this week is a little different. I’m shining the spotlight on a scholar from history that you should definitely know.

Introducing John Edmonstone…

I love Twitter. Thanks to Twitter, a friendly tweep, who I now cannot remember, dropped a name on me that I never knew, but should have: John Edmonstone. John Edmonstone taught taxidermy to Charles Darwin in Edinburgh and is believed to have tutored the young Darwin on the natural history of the fauna and flora of South America prior to his historic voyage on the SS Beagle. Before moving to England Edmonstone lived in Guyana, as a slave. He came from the Demerara region of the country. I have visited and researched in Guyana, in fact I often remark how I am Guyanese reborn, I love it there so. However, despite my academic background in biology, evolution and by visits to Guyana, I had never heard of him before now.

Young Darwin learning taxidermy in Edinburgh from freed Guyanan slave John Edmonstone

Source: State Darwin Museum

There are so many untold and unearthed stories about science and the people who contribute to science. It is shame these stories aren’t more routinely and deliberately shared in science classes. I wonder how much we are missing or overlooking when we fail to share these stories. I wonder how many students’ attentions have we missed because we aren’t sharing the backstories with them.

Among biologists, we pay much tribute to Charles Darwin and Russel Wallace and Theodosius Dobzhansky. Their stories and contributions are important.  However, I cannot deny the very personal and relevant feeling I have about John Edmonstone. It’s indescribable but it includes feelings of pride and regret for not knowing sooner and responsibility. I feel responsible for sharing his story and to use my voice, this platform to combat the erasure of Black and Brown people’s contribution to ‪science‬ history. I never forget that I am the hope and dream of the slave. I am,  by my own insistence, the academic grand-daughter of this man – being an ecologist, evolutionary biologist, a natural history scientist.  The next time I teach evolutionary biology, I am definitely including Edmonstone in my lectures. I hope others do as well.

Learn more about John Edmonstone and his essential contributions to science and history at this in depth article at OZY. John Edmonstone: The Freed Slave Who Inspired Charles Darwin.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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