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C. Raymond Carpenter, 1905-1975
Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, Washington,
D.C. 20052
Fig. 6. C. Raymond Carpenter, 1905-1975. Courtesy of
the Pennsylvania State University Archives, University
0 1981 ALAN R. LISS, INC.
Born on the 29th of November, 1905, in rural
Lincoln County, North Carolina, Clarence Raymond Carpenter was raised and schooled in his
native state until he obtained an M.A. degree
from Duke University in 1929, four years after
John T. Scopes was tried for teaching about
monkeys and evolution in the neighboring
state of Tennessee. Viewed in retrospect, Ray
Carpenter’s subsequent move to Stanford University, where a new liberal outlook in American education was being forged, and which
awarded him the Ph.D. in psychology in 1932,
may not only have symbolized a major break
from a conservative background but also may
have launched a professional career devoted to
exploring new avenues of behavioral research
and instructional methods. For it was probably during these early years that the young
Carpenter embraced a wide variety of interests
and objectives, from seeking to understand the
roots of primate behavior and human evolution
to developing mass media techniques of instruction.
By the time of his death in 1975, Ray Carpenter was a renowned scientist and scholar, an
educator and author of international reputation, an eclectic professional whose vita included at least seven areas of acknowledged expertise. Primatology, the discipline he seemed
to favor most but often could practice least
during his 44 years of inordinately rich contributions to numerous sciences, was but one
of these seven areas; the others ranged from
educational technology to comparative psychology, from ethology to curriculum development, from telecommunications to institutional planning.
Given such a multitude of activities and
achievements, it is no small irony that the
discipline now known as field primatology (the
study of “the naturalistic behavior of nonhuman
primates,” to use a definitive phrase he himself
coined) was initially launched and then nurtured for many years -all but single-handedly-by a man for whom this was more an
avocation than a subsistence occupation. One
can only marvel at the prolific productivity of
the mind that yielded several hundred professional lectures, 90 journal reports, 50 special
publications, 34 book chapters, 21 films, 4
edited books, and a volume of collected works
within the 44-year span bracketed by a 1932
field study of howler monkeys on Barro Colorado Island, Panama and a 1976 photo-essay
about a gibbon colony on Hall’s Island, Bermuda. I t is all the more surprising that Ray
Carpenter focused his sweeping observational
and conceptual talents on primatological research primarily during the early and the late
stages of his career.
To trace the professional trails in which Ray
Carpenter moved with such intellectual grace,
even though within the relatively modest maze
of the behavioral sciences, is a task for a
biographer. I t is therefore more prudent to
forgo elaboration on all fronts, and to focus
here only on the highlights of his primatological journeys.
Between 1931 and 1950, when the seeds of
“naturalistic” primatology were being sown by
a rather select group of iconoclasts, among
whom Ray Carpenter was unquestionably a
leading figure, most of his lectures, publications, and films (some 40 in all) dealt with
animal behavior, including some work on birds
and numerous laboratory and field projects on
nonhuman primates. He traveled widely during these decades, lecturing in the United
States, Holland, England, and India, and
conducted fieldwork on monkeys and apes in
Panama, Thailand, Sumatra, and India. In
1938, after collecting breeding specimens in
Indochina, Thailand, Malaya, and India, Carpenter established the now-famous research
colony of macaques on Cay0 Santiago, Puerto
Rico. This was, on the whole, a time of descriptive contribution, a period of personal and professional growth that produced numerous
classic documentaries on howler monkeys and
lar gibbons. These landmark works were accompanied by a variety of equally concise and
precise reports on the red spider monkey, the
cebus monkey, the rhesus macaque, the
orangutan, and the gorilla. And, nestled
among these imposing descriptive reports, appears the first signs of an inquisitive mind
reaching toward new horizons: lectures on a
training program at Jackson Hole, research on
the educational uses of motion picture films, a
report on an experiment in card guessing in the
Journal of Parapsychology. One of these projects, the foundation in 1944 of the Psychological Cinema Register at Pennsylvania State
University (where he started as associate professor in psychology in 1940),is now one of the
most extensive international collections of instructional and documentary films in the behavioral sciences.
Commenting on this period of pioneering
research in his book, The Hunting Hypothesis,
Robert Ardrey wrote: “They were contemporary with the Nobel prizewinners’ papers,
yet they far exceeded them in terms of truly objective methods of observing animals in an
C. RAY CARPENTER, 1905-1975
authentic wild state. His papers, however,
vanished from print.” The last remark is
perhaps an overstatement, as these contributions continued to circulate among those few
who were quietly laying the ground plan of
modern primatology: K.R.L. Hall, S.L. Washburn, S.A. Altmann, and others. But neither is
the remark entirely false, for Ray Carpenter
was, in the early years, not only an oddity
among the American “behaviorists” with
whom he was frequently lumped but was also
unorthodox in that he preferred to observe
wild primates. The relevance of his work was
therefore not immediately obvious to those
who preferred to study primates in captivity.
There may be another, more direct reason
Ray Carpenter’s early papers missed immediate prominence. During the next decade,
1951-1960, he lectured little and produced
only a few reports and films about animal
behavior. Most of his energy and labor went
into lecturing, film producing, writing, and
editing (over 100 items) on such subjects as instructional media, curriculum development,
and institutional design. Nonetheless, among
the few primatological works produced at this
time were his first tentative generalizations
about primate social behavior and social
organization, papers which stand today as major theoretical contributions. These, more than
any other reports published by primatologists
during this decade, laid the conceptual foundations of the discipline, foundations that were
an essential prelude to the increasingly rapidpace developmental stage that characterized
field primatology in the late 1950s and early
In the following decade, 1961-1970, Carpenter’s productivity gradually revived and once
again, he became a vital force in the swift expansion that molded primatology into the
flourishing multidisciplinary enterprise that it
is today. I t seems more than appropriate that
this period-in both Carpenter’s career and
primatological history -was punctuated in
1964 by the publication of a collection of early
works entitled Naturalistic Behavior of Nonhuman Primates. Also at this time came the
first official signs of professional recognition,
one example being the designation of Hylobates lar carpenteri by the Smithsonian Institution in 1968. Following his retirement
from Pennsylvania State University in 1970,
as professor emeritus of psychology and anthropology, Ray Carpenter’s last years were
spent as research professor of psychology at
the University of Georgia, where he orchestrated the formation of a student training program in primatology, and as consultant to the
US.-Japan Cooperative Science Program
based at the University of Hawaii. The latter
post was a capstone on Carpenter’s enthusiastic interest in and sustained collaboration with primatologists at the Japan Monkey
Centre between 1964 and 1974. Despite these
and many other involvements, Ray Carpenter
managed to produce an edited volume and
numerous papers and films about nonhuman
primates during these final years. In recognition of these achievements in the behavioral
sciences, and especially of his passage from a
pioneer to a paragon figure in primatology,
Bucknell University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1972.
The remaining years of Carpenter’s life were
marred by a bitter struggle with cancer.’ He
died on the first day of March, 1975, in Athens,
‘Shortly before his death, Carpenter bequeathed his primatological
collections of personal correspondence, still photographs, books and
publications, and sundry professional documents to the Pattee
Library of Pennsylvania State University.
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