Reading Nature, Observing Science: Examining Material Practices in the Lick Observatory Archives and Kenneth S. Norris Papers

Introduction to Kenneth S. Norris Papers

Kenneth S. Norris (1924-1998) was a renowned conservationist, naturalist, and professor who is well known for his ground-breaking research on dolphins and whales. Norris received his B.A. and M.A. in Zoology from UCLA in 1948 and 1951, where he did research on desert reptiles. Norris's studies then shifted from the desert to the ocean, as he received his Ph.D. in 1959 from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. 

Norris was founding curator at Marineland of the Pacific, where he began his research on dolphin echolocation, and was subsequently a professor of biology and herpetology at UCLA. From 1968-1971, he worked as the research director of the Oceanic Institute in Hawai'i. During these years, Norris divided his time between research and teaching at UCLA and marine mammal research in Hawai'i, and specifically research on the Hawaiian spinner dolphin. Norris eventually left UCLA and the Oceanic Institute and joined the Environmental Studies Department at UCSC as a professor of natural history. During his time at UCSC, Norris helped establish the Joseph M. Long Marine Laboratory and chaired the Environmental Studies Department from 1977 to 1979. He also created the popular Natural History Field Quarter, which he taught until his retirement from UCSC in 1990. 

While Norris's academic research had an extensive breadth, from desert ecology to the study of cetaceans (dolphins and whales), he was quite active in public policy and environmental conservation. He helped draft the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and was a scientific adviser to the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. Norris also founded the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS), a system of protected natural sites throughout California that are central resources for environmental research and education to this day. 

The paths in this digital exhibition explore Norris's work in natural history, education, and conservation. In particular, these paths investigate the various material practices and technologies that shaped Norris's natural history research, such as his use of field notes, glass slides, photography, and audiotape recordings. We are interested in how Norris's material practices of observation ultimately informed his scientific findings and his interactions with the "book of nature." The paths in this exhibition also investigate Norris's interdisciplinary pedagogy and his commitment to a naturalist approach that engaged both scientific and poetic knowledge. 

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