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Society for the History of Natural History

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SHNH William T. Stearn Essay Prize 2019 awarded to Nathan Smith (Cambridge)

SHNH William T. Stearn Essay Prize 2019 awarded to Nathan Smith (Cambridge)

We are delighted to announce that the 2019 Society for the History of Natural History’s William T. Stearn Essay prize has been awarded to Nathan Smith  for his entry ‘It takes a village: The life of Henry Thomas Soppitt and the attempts by provincial mycologists to navigate their scientific legacy’ which focuses on the discovery of Puccinia bistortae’s lifecycle, its reception, and Soppitt’s legacy in a changing scientific landscape.

Henry Thomas Soppitt (1858-1899) was a nineteenth-century mycologist from Yorkshire. A greengrocer-turned-drysalter and artisan experimental mycologist, his work focused primarily on discerning the life-cycles of rust fungi. His early death aged 40 on 1 April 1899 was a seminal event in the history of the Yorkshire nature study. Occurring at a critical junction in British mycology, it saw unprecedented response by Yorkshire mycologists to cement his legacy through preservation of his library and herbarium. Nathan’s essay explores how two Yorkshire mycologists and participants in the discovery, Charles Crossland and James Needham, used accounts of Soppitt’s discovery to ensure his legacy.

Nathan is a PhD student (Zoology) at the University of Cambridge, where he works on the population genetics of porcini (Boletus edulis). He is also interested in geographic and taxonomic distributions and discrepancies of herbaria fungal collections:

“Winning the William T Stearn Essay prize has been fantastic and slightly unbelievable. It’s absolutely brilliant to see that the history of mycology has a wider audience and its been a privilege to write about Soppitt, a mycologist almost lost to history. The prize has given me the reassurance that my work is of interest and encouraged me in its further pursuit.”

Nathan’s essay will be published in an upcoming edition of the Society for the History of Natural History’s journal  Archives of Natural History. See also

William T. Stearn, CBE, was born in Chesterton, Cambridge, and developed an early interest in books and natural history.  He became an outstanding botanical scholar, achieved without receiving a university education. He worked at the British Museum (Natural History) from 1953-76, retiring as a Senior Principal Scientific Officer. His many awards included the Linnean Gold Medal of The Linnean Society of London (1976), and the Society for the History of Natural History’s Founders’ Medal in 1986.The Student Essay Prize was established in his honour by the Society for the History of Natural History and Nathan is the eleventh winner of the prize. For more details about the William T. Stearn essay prize see

You can find out more about mycology and fungi on UK Fungus Day – 6th October 2019 – see for further details.