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Tansley, Sir Arthur George


(b. London, England, 15 August 1871;

d. Grantchester, England, 25 November 1955), ecology, psychology.

A man of twin professional preoccupations, Tansley was the most eminent British ecologist of his generation as well as an important early twentieth-century popularizer of Freudian psychoanalysis. His networking zeal led to the creation of several key organizations, including the British Ecological Society (BES), the world’s first national society of its kind, and the Nature Conservancy, of which he was the first chairman. Tansley was an influential editor and also worked to clarify both psychological and ecological terminology. In 1935, he introduced a central and still relevant concept—the “ecosystem.”

Early Influences. Tansley was the only son and youngest child of Amelia Lawrence and George Tansley. George had a lucrative business organizing society functions, and, after early retirement, he devoted his full energies to voluntary teaching at the Working Man’s College, where his real enthusiasm lay. Arthur became enthralled by field botany as a young teenager due in part to the example set by the masters at his preparatory school at Worthing who were avid field naturalists. His botanical library began to grow at this time and included Edwin Lee’s Botany of the Malvern Hills and J. G. Baker’s Elementary Lessons in Botanical Geography. From the age of fifteen, Arthur was educated (poorly, he judged) at Highgate School and, seeking better instruction, his father enrolled him in science classes at University College, London (UCL) in 1889. Here the botanist Francis Wall Oliver aroused Tansley’s interest in ferns and bryophytes and would later share Tansley’s excitement for the new subject of ecology. In 1890 Tansley entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied botany, physiology, zoology, and geology and, as he recalled, took part in the “usual interminable discussions on the universe—on philosophy, psychology, religion, politics, art and sex” (Cameron, 1999, p. 6). An early extracurricular interest in psychology appears to have manifested in his character study and counsel of his friend, Bertrand Russell, with whom he worked on a student journal, The Cambridge Observer. During his final year at Trinity, he assisted Oliver in teaching and research at UCL. Despite the challenges of this employment in addition to his Cambridge studies, he obtained a double first in the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1893–1894.

Tansley continued in the botany department at UCL for the next twelve years working closely with Oliver. Tansley taught himself German during this period and thus could read the 1896 German translation of Eugenius Warming’s Plantesamfund and A. F. W. Schimper’s 1898 Pflanzen-Geographie auf Physiologischer Grundlage. Tansley held that these books were foundational for plant ecology as they developed concepts of plant communities and detailed relations between plants, soils, and climates. An admirer of Herbert Spencer’s scientific philosophy, Tansley also aided the elderly scholar by overseeing the sections on plant morphology and physiology in the revised 1899 edition of Spencer’s The Principles of Biology. In 1900–1901 Tansley traveled to Ceylon, the Malaya Peninsula, and North Africa in the company of paleobotanist William Henry Lang. Tansley maintained a diary during this time, describing human, animal, and plant activity with insight and humor. He also corresponded with his former student, co-author, and future wife, Edith Chick. Edith was the daughter of a lace merchant, Samuel Chick, and her six well-educated sisters included Harriet Chick, a nutritionist who was later appointed a Dame in the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her achievements. Tansley married Edith in 1903 and they had three daughters, Katharine, Margaret, and Helen, who were to become a physiologist, an architect, and an economist, respectively.

Plant Geography and the New Ecology. In 1906, Tansley returned to Cambridge on his appointment to a university lectureship in botany. His family took up residence at Grove Cottage in the nearby village of Grantchester. Tansley had by this time already demonstrated one of his key attributes: his gift for organizing and leading scientific enterprises, acting as catalyst in a group of like-minded enthusiasts. He was now editor of a botanical journal, The New Phytologist, begun in 1902 and funded by his private income. Besides providing, as he hoped, a “medium of easy communication” and discussion on all matters of botanical research and teaching, Tansley was able to recruit leading authors able to stimulate and direct research in the new areas of plant physiology, ecology, and genetics (Godwin, 1985, p. 2). Already a fellow of the Linnean Society, Tansley was pivotal in wedding the activities of naturalist societies to the interests of professional botanists in the national survey projects of the British Vegetation Committee, which he co-founded in 1904.

As the scope of this necessarily collaborative phyto-geographical activity was broadened to include botanists from outside Britain, Tansley organized the first International Phytogeographical Excursion (IPE). Tansley indicated in The New Phytologist that his initiative attempted to redress the confusing situation in which “Workers in different countries use different names for the same thing and the same name for different things” (1911, p. 273). The main split was between continental plant sociology and Anglo-American plant ecology. The continental approach emphasized floristic composition with “association” as the central unit. The Americans and the British emphasized the dynamic nature of vegetation, the study of the process of vegetational change known as “plant succession,” and the “formation” as the fundamental unit of analysis of which the “association” is only a stage in development. In order to create some consensus concerning the concepts and language of ecological plant geography, Tansley brought together leading plant geographers and other botanical experts from Europe and North America to explore together the vegetation of a particular host country. It was held first in the British Isles and the group (eleven distinguished guests from foreign countries and a varying number of regional experts) traveled for four weeks in the month of August 1911, ending up in Portsmouth for the meeting of the British Association.

The American ecologist Henry Chandler Cowles, who would host the second IPE in America in 1913, declared the IPE a great success, noting in The Botanical Gazette that “The chief result of this excursion has been to internationalize for all time the subject of plant geography, and to divest it of the provincialism which has hitherto too greatly characterized it” (1912, p. 348). To acquaint the non-British scientists with local vegetation, of which they knew virtually nothing, Tansley edited Types of British Vegetation(1911) for the IPE. The book was the first systematic description of British vegetation, and immediately found a larger home market besides the invited foreign botanists who received advance copies. Contributors included established scholars as well as emerging botanical workers such as Marietta Pallis, who had completed new research on the Norfolk Broads vegetation. The IPE became a thriving twentieth-century institution (the last excursion was held in Poland in 1991), meeting every two to four years in a different country, with its headquarters at the Geobotanical Institute of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich.

In 1913 the British Vegetation Committee became the British Ecological Society, the world’s first ecological organization. Tansley was its first president and also acted as editor of the new society’s Journal of Ecology from 1917 to 1938. In 1915, he was elected fellow of the Royal Society; this was an important honor for him, and in later years he would always add the letters “FRS” to his signature. Early proponents of ecology such as Tansley and the American plant ecologists Cowles and Frederic Edward Clements were particularly attuned to the dynamic aspects of vegetation. This was in sharp contrast to static morphology and “descriptive” botany, with its emphasis on species lists. Clements, another member of the 1911 IPE, argued that the plant formation was a “complex organism” that developed progressively toward a single end point, the “climatic climax.” His method stressed the compatibility of physiology and ecology, for he believed the structure and functions of the “complex organism” could be examined in the same way that physiology approached the individual organism. Tansley initially supported Clements’s successional approach to vegetation as a shared endeavor, but over the next two decades would increasingly voice discomfort with Clements’s choice of terminology, the organismic analogy and belief in the monoclimax.

Clementsian ecology emphasized that natural vegetation, progressing toward normal climax, existed in isolation from humans. Tansley asserted that in a country where humans have so extensively modified the vegetation, most of what the ecologist could study was semi-natural. The country Tansley had in mind was his beloved England, and he had another name for these touched landscapes: “anthropogenic nature,” which meant nature produced by man. The term recognized that the distinctive vegetation of the English countryside that he and his colleagues were working to survey, such as the fens, moors, heaths, and woodlands, often depended as much on the intervening hand of human beings as so-called “nature.” From 1908 on, Tansley had begun to recognize and inspire the first research on biotic effects, those factors due to organisms, and when directly or indirectly due to human activity give rise to communities of semi-natural vegetation. In 1916, after Tansley was wounded in World War I, his research student Ernest Pickworth Farrow returned to Cambridge to complete one of these early studies, an investigation of biotic successions associated with rabbit attacks on the vegetation of Breckland. Another student, Alexander Stuart Watt, examined the effects of grazing on English woodlands. Unlike Clements, Tansley wanted to speak of many kinds of vegetation climaxes, including anthropogenic climaxes caused by fire, grazing, or by mowing. Such an appreciation of polyclimax implied that the semi-natural and disturbed or tended vegetation was to be given as much attention and value as the so-called “natural.”

Eager to promote and properly teach the new ecology, Tansley used his editorial authority to agitate for change in university botany courses. The 1917 so-called “Manifesto” in The New Phytologist (signed by Tansley and Oliver amongst others) pleaded for a vitalized and practical curriculum, to be based on plant physiology and ecology alongside, rather than subordinate to, the currently dominant morphology. Tansley’s ideas for reform were denounced as “Botanical Bolshevism” by Frederick Bower, the Regius Professor of botany at Glasgow, and had a similarly chilly reception in the Cambridge Botany School. As he complained to Clements in 1918, “Reactionary forces are pretty strong here, and it will be a hard struggle to get anything progressive done” (Golley, 1993, p. 208). An additional source of frustration may have been Tansley’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt, beginning in late 1917, to create a Scientific Research Association for the promotion of pure research (an initiative supported by leading psychologists as well as ecologists). The SRA was dissolved in December 1919, the same month Tansley learned that his bid for the Sherardian Chair of botany at Oxford was unsuccessful.

Psychoanalysis and the New Psychology. However, even before 1917, Tansley was looking elsewhere than English botany schools or even the international ecology movement for intellectual direction. Tansley had been aware of developments in psychopathology before the war, but, by his own account, his knowledge owed more to conversation than careful study. His own former student Bernard Hart, who worked as a doctor in asylums near London, would often entertain Tansley and discuss with him the new discoveries. Hart’s interests were in the psychology of insanity, the title of his phenomenonally successful short book first published in 1912. Tansley would mention Sigmund Freud in his botany lectures and even shared proofs of Hart’s book with undergraduates in his classes. Appreciative students included Pickworth Farrow, who would himself later publish work in both ecology and psychoanalysis and correspond with Freud. Another was E. Margaret Hume, a pioneer in the field of nutrition research. When war broke out and Tansley began service in London as a clerk in the Ministry of Munitions, his self-taught German now allowed him to read Freud’s published works.

Tansley’s crisis in career direction—botany or psychoanalysis?—began to develop at this time and culminated ten years later, when, at the age of fifty-five and having attained the pinnacle of a scientist in early twentieth-century Britain, he was hopelessly torn as to whether he should become a professional psychoanalyst or retain a central position in his chosen field of botany. As Tansley related, the instigating event was a dream. Occurring sometime around 1916, the dream and his own analysis of it impressed him so deeply that he resolved to read Freud’s work, beginning with the Traumdeutung, and the Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, a book he found particularly exciting. In 1953, when asked to record for the Sigmund Freud Archives (later sited at the Library of Congress), his memories of his relationship with Freud and psychoanalysis, he wrote: “My interest in the whole subject was now thoroughly aroused, and after a good deal of thought I determined to write my own picture of it as it shaped itself in my mind” (Cameron and Forrester, 1999, p. 69). This “picture” was The New Psychology and Its Relation to Life, a book Tansley published in June 1920. It was reprinted ten times in four years, in the first three years selling more than ten thousand copies in the United Kingdom, more than four thousand in the same period in the United States, and was translated into Swedish and German.

Tansley had caught the postwar wave of enthusiasm for Freudianism and produced one of the most celebrated surveys of the “new psychology” to date. It was an attempt, he said, to capture for the general reader the “biological” view of the mind with the concepts taken from the work of “the great modern psychopathologists, Professor Freud and Dr. [Carl Gustav] Jung” (p. 6). Tansley stressed the immense influence of the doctrine of evolution that was shaping the study of animals and plants, but also investigations into the human mind. In this book Tansley, without attributing it to himself, offered a somewhat censored version of his own dream as a good example of dreams about sexual relations: “the man with a rifle surrounded by savages and unable to break through them is a true poetic symbol of the man in conflict with the herd, which separates him from the object of desire” (p. 131). This dream, Tansley’s submission to the Freud Archives made clear, was one of the major turning points in his life; as he interpreted it, he, a married man, had fallen in love with a student. But this conflict seemed to be supplanted by another: from the dream came his interest in psychoanalysis, a serious new rival for his long-time beloved, ecology (Cameron and Forrester, 1999, p. 89).

The bestseller received generally admiring reviews from leading commentators in several countries, including Ernest Jones, Freud’s “lieutenant” in England. It acquired a diverse readership, becoming, for instance, a textbook for the Psychological Section of the Croydon Natural History Society. In October 1920, Tansley was invited to speak before the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology on one of his book’s themes, “Freud’s theory of sex from a biological point of view.” On the whole, Tansley was disconcerted by the response to his book. Not only did it instigate critical correspondence with eminent figures, including old Cambridge colleagues from his undergraduate days, psychologist William McDougall and physician Walter Langdon-Brown, but he received many letters from strangers wanting expert help. Feeling he could not give adequate answers without further knowledge of psychoanalysis, Tansley asked Jones for an introduction to Freud so that he could undergo analysis. Freud, Jones, and others had already begun to follow Tansley’s psychoanalytic progress with some interest and Freud arranged for Tansley to spend three months in Vienna, from the end of March to June 1922. Lodgings for Tansley were obtained in the house of the recently deceased famous botanist Julius Wiesner (whose lectures on plant physiology were familiar to Freud himself). In a letter to Jones, dated 6 April 1922, Freud wrote, “Tansley started analysis last Saturday. I find a charming man in him, a nice type of the English scientist. It might be a gain to win him over to our science at the loss of botany” (Cameron, 1999, p. 4).

Both Freud and Tansley seem to have agreed that the three months of analysis that ended in June 1922 was incomplete. Though intent on returning to Freud, it is probable that Tansley’s duties kept him in Cambridge during the academic year 1922–1923. After his return to England, Tansley played a major role in a symposium on the relations of complex and sentiment for the July 1922 meeting of the British Psychological Society. In contrast to the positions taken by W. H. R. Rivers and Alexander Shand (whose language of “sentiments” was the home-grown English competitor with the vocabulary of “complexes”), Tansley argued that “complex” was a key connecting term for normal and abnormal psychology and should not be limited to the latter field. As he stressed here and later in a 1923 letter to Clements outlining his view of the central issues in the field of psychology: “The question of the applicability of Freudian method to the ‘normal’ mind is doubtless the crucial question.” Along with the notion that all energy, both physical and psychical, tended towards a state of equilibrium, this focus on “normal” and “abnormal” provided conceptual links for his thinking in both psychology and ecology. As he explained to Clements, “The limiting conception of ‘normality’ is an abstraction—never seen in concrete form. We use the word ‘normal’ in practice to cover quite large deviations from a theoretic balanced mean, just as we do with species.”

Despite his increasing involvement with psychology, Tansley founded the Cambridge Ecology Club in 1921 and published substantial works in botany, including Elements of Plant Biology in 1922, based on the lecture course he gave to first-year medical students, and Practical Plant Ecology in 1923, the key book of his generation for introducing plant ecology into schools. He also produced a co-edited volume Aims and Methods in the Study of Vegetation in 1926, which was based on a successional point of view and intended for practical use throughout the British Empire. In addition, he was president of the Botanical Section, British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1923, and spent part of the summer months doing research at Wicken Fen near Cambridge. This was a site of special scientific interest for Tansley and his young colleague Harry Godwin where their research on the effects of crop-taking was providing evidence for plagioseres(Tansley’s term), deflections from the natural development from waterlogged grounds to fen, the normal hydrosere.

But as Tansley commented to Clements, the “double pull” of psychology and ecology was “a considerable strain.” In the late spring of 1923, Tansley made his decision and resigned from the Cambridge Botany School. His future seemed open as he wrote to Clements that summer, “if, as is quite possible, I become more and more absorbed in psychological research I may gradually drop plant ecology from sheer lack of time” (12 July 1923, Frederic E. Clements Papers, University of Wyoming). Tansley moved to Vienna with his wife and daughters in September of 1923; analysis with Freud resumed in late December, following Freud’s operation for mouth cancer. After returning to London in May 1924, at which time Tansley was elected an associate member of the British Psychoanalytic Society, Tansley attended the Eighth International Psychoanalytic Congress in Salzburg. On Freud’s recommendation, he took on a psychoanalytic case, to acquaint himself fully with the discipline, and on 7 October 1925, he was elected to full membership of the Society.

Tansley quickly developed psychoanalytic communities in at least two different milieus, both informal: one within Cambridge, a psychoanalytic discussion group consisting of physician John Rickman, Freud translator James Strachey, geophysicist Harold Jeffreys, medical student Lionel Penrose, and philosopher Frank Ramsey; and another connected with the field sciences, including Pick-worth Farrow, Godwin and C. C. Fagg. Throughout the summer of 1925, Tansley also led a public polemic defending psychoanalysis in The Nation and The Athenæum. However, as the year passed, Tansley may have judged that as a non-medical biologist, his opportunities were beginning to appear limited in psychoanalytical circles. The international psychoanalytic movement was rapidly moving toward a system of education committees that marked the beginning of more strictly hierarchical institutions devoted to training professional and frequently medically qualified psychoanalysts. At the same time, Tansley’s ecological work continued to be held in high regard, and in 1926, he accepted an invitation to re-apply for the Sherardian Chair of botany at Oxford. In Godwin’s later judgment, the years 1923 to 1927 had been for Tansley years “in the wilderness so far at least as his relations to botanical science were concerned and especially those with British botanists. … Not until the end of 1926 did he complete what Freud had forecast for him, ‘the return to the mother subject,’ … He was elected in January 1927. Indecision was abandoned” (1957, p. 236).

Return to the Mother Subject. Tansley took up the post in October 1927, together with a fellowship at Magdalen College, although he continued to maintain his home in Grantchester. He set to work modernizing teaching and research in botany at Oxford and promoting ecology as a practical pursuit with obvious utility for agriculture and forestry throughout the British Empire. Tansley remained a stalwart defender of psychoanalysis, publicly and in more private Oxford circles such as the Magdalen College Philosophy Club, and left a number of unpublished psychoanalytic papers, including an incomplete manuscript titled “The Historical Foundations of Psychoanalysis.” Tansley continued to correspond with Freud and Freudian circles, but his main work of the 1930s was in the discipline of botany—and productive of a concept of central importance to its future development : the “ecosystem.”

The concept emerged in a debate in the Journal of Ecology with Clements’s South African disciple John Phillips, who was advocating Clementsian organismic concepts as well as the holistic philosophy of South Africa’s elder statesman, General Jan Christiaan Smuts. In his 1935 article, “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms,” Tansley contended that the organismal analogy for vegetation had been pushed too far, and in place of Clements’s “complex organism” offered the term “ecosystem” (first suggested to him by his young Oxford colleague Arthur Roy Clapham) as the fundamental unit of ecological study. The ecosystem was an interacting, interdependent and dynamic system of organic and inorganic components, tending toward stable equilibrium. Vegetation succession was an instance in the universal process moving in the direction of integration and stability (climax), and ecosystems varied in their ability to resist forces of disintegration. The influences on Tansley’s thinking have been detailed in terms of physics, psychoanalysis, politics, and philosophy. With the term ecosystem Tansley was addressing the profound question at the heart of his dispute with Clements and Phillips, “Is man part of nature or not?” (Tansley, 1935, p. 303).

Clements had come to agree that humans could be understood as part of biotic communities, but maintained what Tansley saw as an artificial distinction between low-impact tribal groups and destructive “modern” man. The term ecosystem would integrate the work on anthropogenic nature: within it the human was to be regarded as the most powerful biotic factor, “which increasingly upsets the equilibrium of preexisting ecosystems and eventually destroys them, at the same time forming new ones of a very different nature” (p. 303). For Tansley there was no difference in functional or moral terms between natural and man-made ecosystems. “We cannot confine ourselves to the so-called ‘natural’ entities and ignore the processes and expressions of vegetation now so abundantly provided us by the activities of man” (p. 304). The concept not only addressed past disputes but also suggested future research directions, such as the integration of plant and animal studies and a recognition of the myriad organic and inorganic factors that constituted and affected a particular study area.

During the 1930s Tansley worked on expanding and revising his 1911 Types. In 1931, he handed over ownership and editorship of The New Phytologist, and in 1938, he finally gave up editing of the Journal of Ecology, one year after his retirement from Oxford. Eventually completed in 1939, The British Islands and Their Vegetation, his magnum opus, was a finely illustrated survey of more than 900 pages, culminating the phase of ecology that he had initiated. As the first major book to employ the ecosystem concept, it showed vegetational communities to be the result of the interacting processes of plants, climates, and soils in a dynamic landscape alive with human and animal activities. Summarizing the work of a generation of researchers that he had so vigorously promoted, the book instantly became the standard reference, and in 1941 it was awarded the Linnean Gold Medal.

Contributions to Nature Conservation, Mind, and Life. There is little to suggest that Tansley saw ecology as an environmentalist alternative to mainstream science. Yet he did much in his time to advocate for landscape conservation. This was in contrast to a “hands-off” preservationist approach, which he understood as irresponsible and naive. For Tansley, intervention over the long term had largely created nature as it existed in England. Since 1914 he had been a member of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves: in his experience, a rigid preservation of a nature reserve in its so-called natural state with no management such as cutting was simply a fast way to eradicate desirable species.

In 1942 he took a guiding role in the planning of postwar nature conservation which led to the foundation of the Nature Conservancy in 1949, of which he was the first chairman. To help achieve this success, Tansley had published a semi-popular publication in 1945, Our Heritage of Wild Nature: A Plea for Nature Conservation. Within the conservancy, Tansley’s ideas about the need for intervention in plant communities not only helped to establish the ecologist’s authority and a network of reserves after the war, but were also compatible with progressive, postwar planning intentions. With significant government backing, the nature reserve was recast as an element of state responsibility with the ecologist as its expert manager.

In addition to this activity, Tansley was heavily involved (as president from 1947 to 1953) in the Council for the Promotion of Field Studies (later the Field Studies Council), a voluntary organization which maintained resident field centers in locations of ecological and geological significance (such as Flatford Mill in Suffolk) where student interests in nature could be stimulated. To this effort he also contributed a volume entitled Oaks and Oak Woods (1952), designed with the users of the field centers in mind. Such an interest in decentralized education and the nurturing of “scientific curiosity” resonated with his active joint leadership (with John Baker and Michael Polanyi) of the Society for Freedom in Science, an organization which, from 1940, fought strongly against the central planning of scientific research. In this, yet another of the new organizations that he had helped to found over his lifetime, Tansley brought to bear his views on psychology in a pamphlet, “The Psychological Connexion of Two Basic Principles of the SFS.”

In 1942 he was asked to deliver the Herbert Spencer Lecture to the University of Oxford in which he spoke upon “The Values of Science to Humanity.” In 1944 he was made an honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and three years later he became an honorary member of the British Ecological Society. Tansley received his knighthood in 1950. In 1952, the year before he resigned from his chairmanship of the Nature Conservancy due to increasing deafness, Tansley completed his final book, Mind and Life: An Essay in Simplification. True to its title, it was an overarching synthesis of the twin preoccupations of his professional career. Although it did not receive the acclaim of The New Psychology, the book was an eloquent testament to his concern with the place of the man in relation to nature and the place of nature within man. Employing the hydraulic metaphor, Tansley argued once again that all life, including mental life, was dominated by the need of the organism to discharge energy, thus aiming toward a stable state. Tansley carried the nineteenth-century concept of “equilibrium” into both his ecology and psychology, but he was modern (and more Freudian) in emphasizing the many factors of instability which ensure that this state of balance is rarely, if ever, attained.

Godwin related that Tansley, when asked at an Oxford gathering “to name the man who, since the birth of Christ, would prove to have had the most lasting influence upon the world, he unhesitatingly chose Freud” (1977, p. 25). In 1941, Tansley had provided the Royal Society with an obituary for Freud and Godwin perceptively noted that nearly all of the gifts that Tansley described in Freud were ones that he “unconsciously acknowledged” as attributes they held in common: “full of attractive ironic humour and with a very pungent wit” and “free from illusions about human nature” (Godwin, 1977, p. 25).

Tansley enjoyed fine living: wine lists sometimes followed species lists in his field notebooks. In appearance, Tansley was tall and slender: in photographs, he seems rarely to conceal the webbed fingers of his left hand and in later years, is often posed smoking a pipe. A memorial to Tansley is inscribed on a sarsen stone overlooking one of his favorite places in England, the magnificent yew wood of Kingley Vale in Sussex: “In the midst of this Nature Reserve which he brought into being this stone calls to memory Sir Arthur George Tansley, F.R.S., who during a long lifetime strove with success to widen the knowledge, to deepen the love and to safeguard the heritage of nature in the British Islands.”

Tansley’s papers are in several archives. The Plant Sciences Library of the University of Cambridge includes some of Tansley’s correspondence and papers; the Archives of the British Psychoanalytical Society includes some correspondence; the Sigmund Freud Papers of the Library of Congress includes some of his papers; the American Heritage Center of the University of Wyoming includes some correspondence; the Natural History Museum (London) houses some correspondence and papers; the British Library houses some correspondence; the Bertrand Russell Archives at the University of McMaster includes some correspondence; the Royal Society houses some correspondence and papers; and the Bodleian Library of Oxford University includes correspondence.



“The Problems of Ecology.” New Phytologist 3, no. 8 (1904): 191–200.

“The International Phytogeographical Excursion in the British Isles.” New Phytologist 10 (1911): 271–291.

As editor. Types of British Vegetation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1911.

With Frederick F. Blackman, Vernon H. Blackman, Frederick Keeble, and Francis W. Oliver. “The Reconstruction of Elementary Botanical Teaching.” New Phytologist, 16 (10, 1917): 241–252.

“The Classification of Vegetation and the Concept of Development.” Journal of Ecology 8, no. 2 (1920): 118–149.

The New Psychology and Its Relation to Life. London: Allen and Unwin, 1920.

Elements of Plant Biology. London: Allen and Unwin, 1922.

“The Relations of Complex and Sentiment Symposium.” British Journal of Psychology 13 (1922): 113–122.

“Studies of the Vegetation of the English Chalk: II. Early Stages of Redevelopment of Woody Vegetation on Chalk Grassland.” Journal of Ecology 10 (1922): 177–223.

Practical Plant Ecology: A Guide for Beginners in Field Study of Vegetation. London: Allen and Unwin, 1923.

“Some Aspects of the Present Position of Botany.” Presidential Address to the British Association, Botanical Section, Liverpool. Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1923): 227–246.

As editor, with Thomas F. Chipp. Aims and Methods in the Study of Vegetation. London: Whitefriars Press, 1926.

The Future Development and Functions of the Oxford Department of Botany. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1927.

With Harry Godwin. “The Vegetation of Wicken Fen.” In The Natural History of Wicken Fen Part V, edited by Stanley Gardiner. Cambridge, U.K.: Bowes & Bowes, 1929.

“The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms.” Ecology 16, no. 3 (1935): 284–307.

“British Ecology during the Past Quarter-Century: The Plant Community and the Ecosystem.” Journal of Ecology 27, no. 2 (1939): 513–530.

The British Islands and their Vegetation. Cambridge, U.K.:Cambridge University Press, 1939.

“Sigmund Freud, 1856–1939.” Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 3, no. 9 (1939–1941): 246–275.

The Values of Science to Humanity. London: Allen and Unwin,1942.

Our Heritage of Wild Nature: A Plea for Organized Nature Conservation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1945.

With John R. Baker. “The Course of the Controversy on Freedom in Science.” Nature(London) 158 (1946): 574–576.

“The Early History of Modern Plant Ecology in Britain.” Journal of Ecology 35 (1947): 130–7.

Britain’s Green Mantle: Past, Present, and Future. London: Allen and Unwin, 1949.

Mind and Life: An Essay in Simplification. London: Allen and Unwin, 1952.

Oaks and Oak Woods. London: Methuen, 1952.

“The Psychological Connexion of Two Basic Principles of the SFS.” Society for Freedom in Science, Occasional Pamphlet no. 12, 1952.

“What is Ecology?” Reprint. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 32 (1987): 5–16.


Anker, Peder J. Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

———. “The Context of Ecosystem Theory.” Ecosystems 5 (2002): 611–613. A philosophical contextualization of Tansley’s 1932 paper “The Temporal Genetic Series as a Means of Approach to Philosophy,” which is also reprinted published for the first time here.

Armstrong, Patrick H. “Arthur George Tansley, 1871–1955.” Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies 13 (1991): 93–100.

Bocking, Stephen. Ecologists and Environmental Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

Boney, Arthur D. “The ‘Tansley Manifesto’ Affair.” New Phytologist 118 (1991): 3–21.

Cameron, Laura. “Histories of Disturbance.” Radical History Review 74 (1999): 2–24.

———. “A Nice Type of the English Scientist: Tansley and Freud.” History Workshop Journal 48 (Autumn 1999): 65–100.

———. “Tansley’s Psychoanalytic Network: An Episode Out of the Early History of Psychoanalysis in England.” Psychoanalysis and History 2, no. 2 (2000): 189–256.

Dagg, Joachim L. “Arthur G. Tansley’s ‘New Psychology’ and Its Relation to Ecology.” Web Ecology 7 (2007): 27–34.

Forrester, John, and Laura Cameron. “‘A Cure with a Defect’: A Previously Unpublished Letter by Freud Concerning ‘Anna O.’” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 80 (October 1999): 929–942. Considers the text of a letter from Freud addressed probably to Tansley.

Hope-Simpson, John F. “Sir Arthur Tansley.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004. Available from

Godwin, Harry. “Arthur George Tansley, 1871–1955.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 3 (1957): 227–46.

———. “Sir Arthur George Tansley, FRS, 1871–1955.” Journal of Ecology 46 (1958): 1–8.

———. “Sir Arthur Tansley: The Man and His Subject.” (First Tansley Lecture.) Journal of Ecology 65 (1977): 1–26.

———. “Early Development of the New Phytologist.” New Phytologist 100 (1985): 1–4.

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Laura Jean Cameron

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Tansley, Sir Arthur George

Tansley, Sir Arthur George (1871–1955) A British ecologist and conservationist who emphasized ecology as an ‘approach to botany through the direct study of plants in their natural conditions’ (Practical Plant Ecology, 1923), and the fact that, since plants exist in communities, the ecologist should be concerned with the structure of communities, or ‘plant sociology’. This view became central to most British and American ecological theory. Tansley was a lecturer at the University of Cambridge (1907–23), where much of his ecological work was done, and professor of botany at the University of Oxford (1927–37). He was instrumental in founding the British Ecological Society (1913) and was its first president. His many books include The British Islands and Their Vegetation (1939) and Britain's Green Mantle (1949). See also CLEMENTS, FREDERIC EDWARD.

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