SSU Professor's History of Cal Academy Voyage to Further Darwin's Work Wins Maritime History Award


ABOVE, California Academy of Sciences' schooner crew were eight young men who traveled to pursue Darwin's work in the Galapagos Islands. BELOW, "Academy" in June 1905. (Photos courtesy of California Academy of Sciences Archive.)

The trials and triumphs of a 1905 ocean expedition comes to life in Professor 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.

James, a Sonoma State University geology professor, uses evocative imagery to take the reader back to the world of early 20th century natural science in such a unique way that he 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 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.

academyjune1905.jpgJames 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.

mattjames.jpg"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 Sunday, 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 Galapagos expertise include marine invertebrate paleontology, conservation, and human history.

He can be reached by email at

Historical photos of the Academy's voyage from the archives of the California Academy of Sciences are available upon request. Contact Jean Wasp, Marketing and Media Relations Coordinator, (707) 664-2057.

Search Newscenter

Subscribe to SSU NewsCenter