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G. Evelyn Hutchinson papers

Call Number: MS 649

Scope and Contents

The G. Evelyn Hutchinson Papers are a large, yet incomplete, record of the personal life and professional career of a giant in the field of limnology. The papers attest to Hutchinson's long and inspirational career as a scholar and teacher, who shaped the development of the emerging field of ecology. Moreover they demonstrate his broad interests from the Abraxas butterfly and water striders in the insect world, the sexual behavior of birds, and mathematical modeling, to British stamps, medieval art, Guernsey archaeology, ancient inscriptions on Tibetan rocks, and the art and architecture of India and Goa.

While there is material, including correspondence, writings, and photographs, from Hutchinson's youth in England through his tenure at Yale, the bulk of the collection dates from the years following his retirement in 1971. Hutchinson continued to be intellectually active in these years, producing the third and fourth volumes of A Treatise on Limnology and "Marginalia" columns. Both the correspondence and the writings series contain material on these endeavors.

Included in the papers are letters from the most prominent academicians in ecology as well as materials for professional societies in their fledgling years. The large number of files for students, colleagues, and organizations attests to his impact on the field. A supportive mentor, the papers document Hutchinson's continuing role in furthering the careers of his students, both men and women, and his interest in their scholarly pursuits. The papers do not include materials such as course syllabi or lecture notes from Hutchinson's teaching, but there is some documentation relating to the Yale science curriculum.

The papers include copious files concerning Hutchinson's publications and speeches, most notably his A Treatise on Limnology. It is, however, difficult to trace the progress of Hutchinson's inquiry and observation on the condition of lakes or the variation in animal species from the relatively limited amount and disorderly state of research data retained by him. Perhaps the best documented of his scholarly endeavors is his work on the Yale North India Expedition in 1932. Letters to his parents and to Grace Pickford, from this period, abound with detail, and every other series in the papers contains some material from this exploration. Hutchinson was a member of the Episcopal Church, and some of his correspondence and writings he explore perceived conflicts between science and religion. In his later writings, he also examines the depiction of nature in art.

The papers include personal materials, but in selecting materials to make available for research, Hutchinson made a deliberate effort to protect his privacy and that of others. There is little in the papers, for instance, concerning his marriages. In preparing to write of his early years and development, a work that would become The Kindly Fruits of the Earth, Hutchinson amassed materials on his parents and their families along with his letters and memorabilia from his student days and travels. These materials provide insight into the milieu which gave rise to Hutchinson's intellectual curiosity about the world.


  • 1875-1992
  • Majority of material found within 1922 - 1991


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Some correspondence with Robert H. MacArthur is restricted until 2035.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has been transferred to Yale University for any copyright Nancy Slack may have in Accession 2009-M-082. Materials for which copyright has been transferred to Yale may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of G. Evelyn Hutchinson, 1950s-1990; Robert Cook, 1983 and 1990; the estate of G. Evelyn Hutchinson, 1991-1992; Yvette H. Edmondson, 1992; Nancy Slack, 1997, 2009, and 2019; and Dorothea and Francis Hutchinson, 1998; transferred from Kline Science Library, 1991 and 2006; and transferred from the Yale Peabody Museum, 2019.


Arranged in five series and four additions: I. Correspondence, 1904-1991. II. Topical Files, 1927-1992. III. Research and Writings, 1922-1991. IV. Personal Files, 1916-1991. V. Photographs, 1875-1991.

Associated Materials

G. Evelyn Hutchinson Papers Relating to Rebecca West. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


51.25 Linear Feet (119 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, writings, addresses, notes and research materials, subject files, memorabilia, and photographs relating to G. Evelyn Hutchinson's work as a zoologist and limnologist. The papers highlight his years on the faculty at Yale University but also document his student days at Cambridge University and his early career in South Africa. Of note are materials from his travels as part of the Yale North India Expedition. The collection includes personal papers relating to various members of the Hutchinson family.

Biographical / Historical

George Evelyn Hutchinson was born in Cambridge, England, on January 30, 1903. His father, Arthur Hutchinson, was a mineralogist and master of Pembroke College at Cambridge University. Hutchinson's early education was at St. Faith's School, Cambridge, and Gresham's School, Holt. He demonstrated an early interest in natural history, particularly butterflies and aquatic insects, and published his first piece of scholarship when he was fifteen.

Hutchinson was a member of Emmanuel College as an undergraduate and received a B.A. from Cambridge University in 1924. After graduation he spent a year as a Rockefeller Fellow at the Stazione Zoologica in Naples where he studied octopus, squid, and other deep sea animals of Messina but also became fascinated with folklore and art. In 1926 Hutchinson accepted his first academic job as a senior lecturer in zoology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, where he began his studies of the physical, biological, chemical, and meteorological conditions of lakes of the western Transvaal. In 1928, he married Grace Pickford.

In that same year, Hutchinson made his final career move, joining the faculty of Yale University as an instructor. He rose to become Sterling Professor of Zoology, a post he held until his retirement in 1971. In 1932, Hutchinson was given the opportunity to study the ecosystems of the lakes on the high plateaus of Tibet, as the biologist accompanying the Yale North India Expedition. Hutchinson chronicled his impressions and experiences in The Clear Mirror (1936). On the return trip from India, he met Margaret Seal, who became his second wife in 1933.

Hutchinson is best known for his work in limnology, the study of freshwaters, particularly lakes. Early on he recognized the significance of ecology, and much of his research and writing dealt with the relationship between living organisms and their environment. He was particularly interested in the determining influence of the physical and chemical environment on the ecology of rivers and lakes. In 1935, he demonstrated the importance of horizontal movements of water in stratified lakes in mixing the upper and lower layers of water. In other studies he showed the circulation of phosphorous in stratified lakes and conducted research on the chemistry of lake sediments. In 1957, he published the first volume of his A Treatise on Limnology, a work of such extensive and thorough analysis that it comprised four volumes, the last of which was released posthumously.

Hutchinson had vast theoretical insight and defended the importance of theory as a stimulus to empirical research. In his desire to find order in the diversity of nature, he maintained that there was a need for dialogue between mathematicians and biologists and he employed mathematical models to arrive at general principles. His curiosity and ability to pose stimulating questions on ecological principles inspired his students, many of whom became leading figures in ecology. He asked, and partially answered the question, "Why are there so many kinds of animals?" and he provided a theoretical understanding of how an organism fits in nature, giving a modern definition of the ecological niche. A prolific writer, Hutchinson presented some of his most provocative ideas in his "Marginalia" column in American Scientist.

Hutchinson was an active participant in numerous professional organizations and learned societies. He was a charter member of the Limnological Society of America and its president from 1947 to1948. Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1950, he served on its Committee on Science and Public Policy and was a foreign member of the Royal Society. He received several honorary degrees, and his contributions were recognized by, among others, the Naumann Medal of the International Association of Theoretical and Applied Limnology (1959), the Frederick Garner Cottrell Award for Environmental Quality of the National Academy of Sciences (1974), the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1984), and the Kyoto Prize in Basic Science (1986).

Hutchinson is remembered as a shy, reserved man, with an insatiable curiosity about all fields of human inquiry and a delightful sense of humor. His wife Margaret had died in 1983, and he had married Anne Twitty in 1985. After her death in 1990, Hutchinson, in failing health, had returned to England. He died there on May 17, 1991.

Guide to the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Papers
compiled by Diane E. Kaplan
December 2001
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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