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Dr Richard Dean explores the collections, and their collectors, of bird specimens between 1850-1950 in southern Africa, a period when museum collections were growing rapidly. He highlights how humans' fascination with birds led to studies of birds and the science of ornithology. Ornithologists working in museums and other institutions began to rely on collections of birds for their studies. There are interesting snippets of information in Warriors, Dilettantes and Businessmen – did you know that birds were used for decoration and magic charms, that their earliest recorded use was related to cultural significance, that mummified birds were used as grave goods by the ancient Egyptians and that a rather strange use of large, preserved birds was as food covers at banquets?
Warriors, Dilettantes and Businessmen is a reassuring read for bird lovers highlighting that bird collections are being cared for in a century where we are facing climate change, the disappearance of large bird species and other habitat losses. Dr Dean, through his book, keeps these collections alive.
Although birds are extremely well-studied compared to other animals, Dr Dean sheds light on why collections are so important in building knowledge of bird species. Warriors, Dilettantes and Businessmen demonstrates how these collections have been reliable sources of information for well-known authors such as E.L. Layard, A.C. Stark, W.L. Sclater, E.L. Gill, A. Roberts and P.A. Clancey. He also briefly describes how artists, authors of field guides and avocational ornithologists have made use of these bird collections in their own work.
W.R.J. Dean has been a full-time biologist since 1972, initially working in the field in Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. From 1974 to 1978, he was a research assistant for the former Transvaal Division of Nature Conservation at Barberspan Ornithological Research Station, and from 1979 to 1982 was the Officer-in-Charge of Nylsvley Nature Reserve. In 1982 he was elected an associate member of the Transvaal Museum and, in 1995, an invited guest scientist at the UFZ-Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. He was awarded the Gill Memorial Medal in 2009 for his lifetime contribution to southern African ornithology. From July 1986 to his retirement from academia at the end of 2006, Richard Dean had been a research officer at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, studying plant-animal interactions and the biology of birds in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Recent projects include editing (with Sue Milton) a synthesis of research in the Karoo (Cambridge University Press) and a book on nomadic birds (Springer).