Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

EISELEY, LOREN (1907-1977)

Loren Eiseley

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Loren Corey Eiseley was born September 3, 1907, in Fremont, Nebraska, and was the only child of Daisy Corey and Clyde Edwin Eiseley. After briefly residing in both Fremont and Aurora, the family settled in Lincoln, where in 1925 Loren completed his public schooling, the first member of his family to do so. Having been introduced to the natural history museum on the University of Nebraska campus at age twelve and returning often to be fascinated by its archeological and anthropological exhibits, he entered the university that fall intent on majoring in science. It was at Nebraska that he experienced his first scientific expedition as part of the South Party (Morrill Paleontological Expedition of 1931–33). Professor C. Bertrand Schultz, leader of the expedition, honored Eiseley some years later by naming a fossil oreodont after him (hadroleptauchenia eiseleyi).

Eiseley graduated from the university in 1933 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and English and received a doctorate in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1937. After brief tenure at the University of Kansas and Oberlin College in Ohio, where he served as chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, he returned to Pennsylvania where he remained for thirty years until he ended his teaching career as Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science.

Although his formal education and subsequent livelihood would emphasize scientific application, Eiseley maintained a dedicated and productive interest in literature and composition. In fact, his fiction won him awards from Atlantic Monthly as a high-school senior and citation in the Distinctive Index of Best Short Stories of 1936, and he wrote three collections of poetry. But it was Eiseley's combination of scientific analysis and poetic sensibility that brought him his greatest acclaim. In books like The Immense Journey (1957) and Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men who Discovered It (1958), he interpreted natural history for a wide audience. Eiseley conveyed a sense of awe and wonder when he wrote about nature, a spiritual yearning that reverberated with his readers.

During his lifetime, Eiseley was awarded thirty-six honorary degrees, memberships in distinguished scholarly societies–including the National Institute of Arts and Letters–and was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the President's Task Force on the Preservation of Natural Beauty. He was the twelfth recipient of the Distinguished Nebraskan Award. Loren Eiseley died in Philadelphia on July 9, 1977.

Jacquelynn Sorensen University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Christianson, Gale E. Fox at the Wood's Edge: a Biography of Loren Eiseley. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990.

Heidtmann, Peter. Loren Eiseley: A Modern Ishmael. Hamden CT: Archon Books, 1991.

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