The Rise of Oceanography in the United States, 1900-1940

Author/s: Ki Won Han, PhD
Availability: Open Access
Type: Dissertation
Year: 2010

Abstract: Around 1900, oceanography was not an established scientific field. Even though scientific surveys of the oceans had been done quite steadily in Europe and the United States for several decades, those efforts were not yet organized into a single scientific discipline. A new trend in the study of the sea began to emerge when scientists realized that the oceanic phenomena were complexly interrelated and that it was impossible to understand one without knowing the others, which happened first in Europe and then in the United States. Endeavors to form a single science of the oceans began to appear in the early twentieth century.This dissertation is a study of the formation of oceanography in the United States roughly in the first four decades of the twentieth century. It traces the institutional as well as intellectual changes that took place mainly in the two American centers of oceanographic research – the Scripps Institution of the University of California and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which started as a modest marine biological station in 1903, slowly evolved into an oceanographic institute devoted to this new science. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, officially founded in 1930, was a latecomer but had many years of prehistory worth careful historical study. In the period between 1900 and 1940, American scientists came to understand the need for systematic study of the sea, and developed institutional structures and practices that enabled them to implement that understanding. Oceanography became a legitimate scientific discipline.American oceanography underwent substantial changes during World War II. Navy sponsorship brought about tremendous changes in the scale and character of the enterprise. However, it must be remembered that the fundamental framework of American oceanography was formed before the war. This dissertation aims to show the importance of that period in the history of oceanography.

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Electronic reproduction. Also available by subscription via World Wide Web x, 202 leaves, bound ill. (some col.) 29 cm