American Philosophical Society
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1Name:  Mr. Robert McCracken Peck
 Institution:  Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (Drexel University)
 Year Elected:  2022
 Class:  4. Humanities
 Subdivision:  404c
 Residency:  Resident
 Living? :   Living
 Birth Date:  1952
Robert McCracken Peck, Senior Fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He served as Special Assistant to the Academy's President and Director of the Academy's Natural History Museum before being named Fellow of the Academy in 1983. In 2000 he assumed additional responsibilities as the Academy's Curator of Art and Artifacts and Editor of Scientific Publications. From 2003-2007 he served as Librarian of the Academy. In 2003 he was named Senior Fellow of the Academy. Peck is the author of six books: The Natural History of Edward Lear (2016, 2018, and 2021), (Specimens of Hair (2018), Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America (1990), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), A Celebration of Birds: The Life and Art of Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1982), and William Bartram's Travels (1980); the co-author of two: A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science (2012) and All In The Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (2008), and has written chapters for dozens of others. He has also written for a wide range of popular and scholarly magazines including: Audubon, Natural History, National Wildlife, International Wildlife, Nature, Arts, Antiques, Image, Terra, Explore, Landscope (Australia), The Journal for Maritime Research, Polar Record, The Explorers Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. His 1990 book, Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America, was the companion volume to an 8-part B.B.C./P.B.S. television series of the same title which dealt with the discovery and exploration of America from a natural history point of view. Within weeks of its appearance in Great Britain, Mr. Peck's book went onto the U.K. Best-Seller List, where it remained for nine weeks (reaching the #3 slot in April, 1990). The German edition, Im Land Des Adlers (1992) also achieved Best-Seller status. The book was selected by the New York Times for its list of notable books for the year. An active member of the Explorers Club (whose Philadelphia chapter has recognized him its Explorers Award), Mr. Peck has developed a special interest in the history of exploration, retracing the travel routes of a number of 18th and 19th century naturalists including: William Bartram, John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Alexander Von Humboldt, John Burroughs and John Muir. He has served as a natural history consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Library, Readers Digest Books, David Attenborough and the British Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.). In 1989 a new species of South American frog (one of three new species he discovered during an expedition to Ecuador) was named in his honor. In 1991 Mr. Peck was honored by the Academy of Natural Sciences' Richard Hopper Day Medal for his work in interpreting natural history to the public. (Other recipients of the medal have included: Jacques Piccard, Louis Leakey, Ruth Patrick, David Attenborough, Lewis Thomas, Gerald Durrell, Stephen Ambrose, Sylvia Earle, and Elizabeth Kolbert.) He has also received Philadelphia’s Wyck-Strickland Award for outstanding contributions to the cultural life of Philadelphia and the Garden Club of America’s Sarah Chapman Francis Medal for environmental writing. He has held fellowships at Harvard University’s Houghton Library (1994-1995 and 2010-2011), and at the Yale Center for British Art (1997); and has twice been a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome (2014 and 2017). He was granted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the University of Delaware in 2012. His other honors have included an award for courage and integrity from the Philadelphia and St. Louis chapters of the Explorers Club, and the David S. Ingalls, Jr. Award for Excellence from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Founders Medal of the Society for the History of Natural History (2021), and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Wagner Free Institute of Science (2019). Mr. Peck has traveled widely on behalf of the Academy of Natural Sciences, accompanying research expeditions in Nepal (1983), Ecuador (1984, 1992, and 1998), Venezuela (1985 and 1987), South Africa (1993), Botswana, (1993), Namibia (1993), Siberia (1994), Guyana (1997), and Mongolia (seven expeditions, 1994-2011). He conducted research on the history of science in Russia in 2019. In recognition of his deep knowledge of the cultural and natural history of Mongolia, Mr. Peck was invited by the White House and the U.S. State Department to represent the United States at ceremonies marking Mongolia’s 800th birthday in Ulaan Baatar in July 2006. The two-person presidential delegation consisted of Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and Mr. Peck. Mr, Peck’s photographs have been published in books, journals, and magazines and exhibited in museums across the U.S. His one-man photographic exhibition documenting nomadic life in Central Asia, has been shown at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Anthropology, the American Museum of Natural History (New York), the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Mongolian Embassy, Washington, D.C.. In 2008 Mr. Peck curated an exhibition and co-authored a book about the British artist and naturalist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894), Charles Darwin’s illustrator and the first person to create life-sized sculptures of dinosaurs (at the Crystal Palace in London in 1854). The book was published in the summer of 2008 and was excerpted to serve as the lead story in Natural History magazine. His book, The Natural History of Edward Lear, published by David R. Godine in the fall of 2016, grew out of an exhibition on the British writer, traveler, and artist that Mr. Peck guest-curated for Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Both the American and the British editions of the book sold out within a year. A Chinese edition, published in 2018, met with equal success. A revised and expanded edition of the book was published by Princeton University Press in 2021. Mr. Peck’s book, Specimens of Hair, The Curious Collection of Peter A. Browne, was published by Blast Books in 2018. Enhanced by the spectacular photography of Rosamond Purcell, it is a book about an extraordinary collection of wool, fur and hair that was collected by a Philadelphia naturalist in the early 19th century in an effort to better understand the relationships – and commercial application – of these animal products and of humans in a pre- Darwinian world. The book was one of only four selected by Publishers Weekly as a recommended purchase for Christmas 2018 under a category the magazine called “slightly weird and very wonderful.” Favorably reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, it was featured in a blog in Atlas Obscura (reaching an audience of 5 million people), and in on-line articles for National Geographic and Time Magazine. The book stimulated a 20 minute interview with Mr. Peck about the Browne collection and the subject of hair on NPR’s popular “Science Friday” program.
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