Excerpt from photograph of conference attendees at 1947 Princeton conference organised by National Research Council's Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Systematics

The Society for the Study of Evolution and its journal, Evolution, have their origins in the work of a small national committee of the National Research Council. This was organised by George Gaylord Simpson and Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1942. Events of World War Two intervened such that Ernst Mayr took effective control in 1943. The Committee on Common Problems of Genetics and Paleontology (later Systematics was added to their title) provided a crucial foothold for those seeking a synthesis in evolution during 1930s-1940s America.

The committee’s activities and organisational history are discussed in Joe Cain. 2002. “Epistemic and community transition in American evolutionary studies: the ‘Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Systematics’ (1942-1949).”  Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 33 (2):283-313. DOI

Exploring the Borderlands recovers and transcribes key working documents from the Committee as Mayr and others worked to build coalitions, define priorities, and negotiate a common vision. They also show factions within the Committee competing to lead this emerging community. These primary sources have ben forgotten; however, the shed important light on the creation of the idea of an evolutionary synthesis.

Joe Cain (ed) 2004 Exploring the Borderlands: Documents of the Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Systematics, 1943-1944. ISBN: 0-87169-942-7. This committee is key to American organising effects associated with the evolutionary synthesis and Ernst Mayr’s involvement in it.Description

This volume includes all documents distributed by the Committee on Common Problems, including:

  • both Reports of Meeting, October 1943
  • all Committee Bulletins 1-6, 1944-1946
  • Appendices:
    -initial recuiting letter for the Committee
    -Committee mailing list
    -reading lists recommended by the Committee on genetics, paleontology, systematics and paleobotany
    -questionnaire from George Gaylord Simpson while organising the 1947 Princeton conference

These historical documents offer an opportunity to examine firsthand the Committee’s activities and to reconsider questions of motivation, interaction, and influence.


Joe Cain (ed). 2004. Exploring the Borderlands: Documents of the Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Systematics, 1943-1944. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 94, Pt. 2, 160 pages. ISBN: 0-87169-942-7. Foreword by Ernst Mayr.


  • Whole book (via Jstor)
  • Table of Contents, Preface, and Foreword (pdf)
  • Index (pdf)