Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011 Karl Kortum Award for Maritime History

June 4, 2011

I am glad to be able to share this news officially with friends, family, colleagues, students, and alumni. The event took place this evening in the J. Porter Shaw Library of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, located at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.

This is a press release written by Jean Wasp, the media relations coordinator in the Office of University Affairs at Sonoma State University.

Sonoma State University Professor’s History of Cal Academy Voyage to Further Darwin’s Work Wins Maritime History Award

The trials and triumphs of a 1905 ocean expedition comes to life in Dr. Matthew James’ story of the eight young scientists who helped further Charles Darwin’s work on evolutionary theory by sailing to the Galapagos Islands and collecting specimens for the California Academy of Sciences.

Dr. James, a Sonoma State University geology professor and Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, uses evocative imagery to take the reader back to the world of early 20th century natural science in such a unique way that is has been honored by the Friends of the San Francisco Maritime Museum Library with the 2011 Karl Kortum Award for Maritime History.

By collecting some 78,000 specimens at a crucial time when conservation and preservation concerns were growing all over the world, the expedition essentially brought the Galapagos back to San Francisco, says James.

The enduring legacy of the 1905-06 scientific expedition rests with both the destruction of the California Academy of Sciences in the April 1906 earthquake and fire, and in the vindication of Charles Darwin by the numerous scientific specimens collected during the 17-month expedition. Those specimens are now housed safely at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. They are used extensively by researchers from around the world.

Dr. James has also written extensively about the maritime history of the 89-foot schooner “Academy” used in the 1905-06 expedition. It was built in 1875 in Baltimore, Maryland for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. This sailing vessel shared similarities with HMS Beagle, the ship that Charles Darwin sailed on during his famous voyage that led to his celebrated 1859 book “On the Origin of Species.” Both vessels were built for coastal surveying and both were about 90 feet long, although the “Academy” was a schooner and the “Beagle” was a square-rigged barque.

In addition to the surveying work performed for the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, the schooner “Academy” also documented a major El Niño in 1877-78, participated in maritime surveying as far north as Alaska, and was eventually lost to history while on an ill-fated gold hunting expedition to Tierra del Fuego in 1915.

“Dr. James’ passion and skill for telling stories from historical science brings the past alive for his students,” says Lynn Stauffer, Dean of the School of Science and Technology. “The Karl Kortum Award given for his telling of the 1905-06 California Academy of Sciences research expedition to the Galapagos Islands recognizes his effectiveness as a science historian and educator inside and out of the classroom.”

The central aim of the Kortum Award is to foster research in selected fields of West Coast maritime history by presenting a $1,000 award biennially. An award ceremony was held on Saturday, June 4 at the J. Porter Shaw Library of the San Francisco Maritime Museum at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.

James specializes in the Galapagos Islands where he has worked since 1982. His areas of expertise include marine invertebrate paleontology, conservation, and human history.

Professor James can be reached by e-mail at: james@sonoma.edu

A sample of Professor Jamesʻ published writing on this topic can be found in pdf here:


Steven Hyman (right), chair of the Kortum Endowment Committee, awarding Professor James a $1000 check for the 2011 Karl Kortum Award for Maritime History.

The Galapagos Islands are a province of the Republic of Ecuador. Here, a representative of the Ecuadorian government congratulates Professor James on receiving the 2011 Karl Kortum Award. Sra. Ximena Cordovez Pareja, is Consulado Ad-Honorem of Ecuador in San Francisco.