Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Marxism and ornithology

The Owl of Minerva...it only flies at dusk you know

While I cannot claim a particular interest in ornithology myself, for some reason as Rick Kuhn has noted, the relationship between Marxism and birdwatching has not recieved as much attention as it perhaps deserves.

One interesting Marxist ornithologist that Kuhn, author by the way of a recent and well regarded work on Henryk Grossman, missed out was the early British Trotskyist Denzil Dean Harber (1909-1966). 'From a very early age he developed an interest in many aspects of natural history including reptiles, butterflies and moths, fossils and birds...By 1937 Harber had revived his interest in natural history and in particular in ornithology. In Sussex he started to contribute to the South-Eastern Bird Report. That for 1939 records his sighting of a Snow-Bunting at Birling Gap near Eastbourne on September 24th of that year. For the next ten years he combined political activity with ornithology' and then 'abandoned active politics (though not his political beliefs) in favour of ornithology.'

'In 1948 the Sussex section of the South Eastern Bird Report became an independent publication The Sussex Bird Report under the editorship of Grahame des Forges. In 1949 Harber became the report’s co-editor and from 1956 its sole editor, a position he held until 1962 when he relinquished control to the newly formed Sussex Ornithological Society. In 1963 his and des Forges’s A Guide to the Birds of Sussex was published.

Very early in his ornithological career Harber had come to the conclusion that a series of rare and exotic birds allegedly shot in an area around Hastings between 1903 and 1916 (the so-called Hastings rarities) were forgeries and the manuscript to the Guide to the Birds of Sussex rejected them. By the time the Guide was published a full exposure of the forgery had been published in British Birds(magazine) (1962 vol 55 8 283-349).

Harber’s reputation as an ornithologist increased over the years. In 1955 in an extended review of The Birds of the Soviet Union for British Birds he brought together his knowledge of Russian and ornithology. Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s he was invited to join the British Birds Rarities Committee – the official adjudicator of rare bird records in Britain and in 1963 became its Honorary Secretary.'

To quote Michael Caine, not a lot of people know that.



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