Harry Greene

Joes and Annies

THEMES: Definitions, Technology  |  WORKSHOP: Natural History & Research


Harry Greene

After receiving a B.A. from Texas Wesleyan College Harry Greene served three years as an army medic, then earned a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, taught at UC Berkeley for two decades, and moved to Cornell in 1999. He has taught natural history of the vertebrates, non-majors intro bio, herpetology, desert ecology, and graduate field ecology, and received campus-wide teaching awards at Berkeley and Cornell as well as the Edward Osborne Naturalist Wilson Award. After decades of studying the ecology, evolution, and conservation of predators in many parts of the world, he recently became one himself, an experience that has profoundly influenced how I think about the meaning and fate of nature. His first book, Snakes: the Evolution of Mystery in Nature, won a PEN Literary Award and made the New York Times’ “100 Most Notable Books,” and his next one, Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art, is nearing completion.




One of my former grad students and I have been working on a program that would lead to lay naturalists being active gatherers of data. We sort of imagine the basic item being an observation of a species, at a time, at a place, verifiable by, for example, a cell phone picture. And we actually call an observation like that a "Joe," in honor of Joe Grinnell. And if you add additional details, like courtship behavior or something that's happening, you can upgrade your Joe to an Annie, after Annie Alexander who patronized the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology when it was founded. So we see these units of natural history as Joes and Annies, and we envision people accumulating and bragging about how many Joes they've added for how many species, and how many of their Joes have been upgraded to Annies, and things like that.

For me the core unit of natural history is an organism at a time and a place doing something, and the whole thing recorded and archived so someone else can use the information.