Charles Aiken was a Colorado ornithologist and specimen dealer whose career spanned almost sixty years, roughly 1870–1930. He was an entrepreneurial naturalist who operated a long-running commercial natural history dealership in Colorado Springs, which enabled him to pursue his passion for birds and make important contributions to American ornithology. Definitive studies of Colorado and Rocky Mountain avifauna were based on his personal specimen collection and extensive residential knowledge. However, his contributions to ornithology have largely been forgotten, highlighting the fact that collectors like Aiken were “invisible technicians.” This article examines the importance of specimen dealers to the science of natural history, suggesting that the tools we use to examine the careers of scientists can also be useful in understanding those commercial collectors who provided scientists with the materials they needed to produce scientific knowledge. The first half follows Aiken’s career from his early training in natural history through to the operation of his natural history dealership. The second half considers Aiken’s contributions to American ornithology, providing insight into the social and scientific status of collectors in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century America. I consider whether specimen dealers are best classified as amateurs, professionals, or scientists. I also examine the tensions engendered by collectors’ commercial practices, and how scientific publication acted as a boundary between collectors and those scientists who used their specimens in the production of knowledge.
The Business of Natural History: Charles Aiken, Colorado Ornithology, and the Role of the Professional Collector
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Steve Ruskin; The Business of Natural History: Charles Aiken, Colorado Ornithology, and the Role of the Professional Collector. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 June 2015; 45 (3): 357–396. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2015.45.3.357
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