During the early decades of the nineteenth century, an inquisitive amateur naturalist named Peter A. Browne began to assemble a collection of sheep wool from around the world to help advance the cause of agriculture in America. His collecting then expanded to animal fur, and eventually human hair. Before his death in 1860, Mr. Browne had created the largest and most important scientific collection of human hair in the world, including examples from leading writers, artists, military officers, and legislators, including thirteen of the first fourteen presidents of the United States. In a highly illustrated lecture, Robert McCracken Peck, the author of a book about this extraordinary collection, Specimens of Hair: The Curious Collection of Peter A. Browne, will put it in historical context and discuss its relevance today.
Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He served as special assistant to the Academy's president and director of the Academy's Natural History Museum before being named fellow of the Academy in 1983. The author of numerous books and articles on natural history and the history of science, Peck serves as the “humanist” on the staff of the Academy. He has provided commentary for NPR, PBS, BBC, the New York Times and other news outlets.