Interview with Robert Evan Sloan (1929-2019)

Robert E. Sloan | American Paleontologist | by Professor Joe Cain | 2008

A series of oral history interviews in 1996 with Professor Robert Evan Sloan (Bob) (1929-2019) regarding his career, the recent history of paleontology, and the life of an American scientist in the second half of the twentieth century. These comprise 16 sessions, from tape recorded interviews. These transcripts are from cassette tapes now on deposit at University of Minnesota Archives, Twin Cities campus. (A related article on Sloan appeared in 1997 in the university newspaper, The Minnesota Daily.) The interviewer is Professor Joe Cain. These are available with the permission of Bob Sloan and may be quoted. Bob was a caring and important mentor to me, and I am grateful for the time and effort he put into our friendship.

Interviews with Robert E. Sloan (Bob)

Summaries of sessions

Session 1

Bob’s role in formulating the Pele hypothesis for end-Cretaceous extinctions, biology of Cretaceous dinosaurs, ecological problems in paleontology.

Session 2

History of the Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology and textbooks in paleontology in 1950s. Bob’s teaching practices in paleontology at University of Chicago and Minnesota. Bob’s student days at University of Chicago.

Session 3

More on the Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology. Bob’s research programme at University of Minnesota, studies of the Cretaceous-Tertiary transition, collecting in Montana in early 1960s.

Session 4

Bob’s research in Montana during early 1960s on dinosaur extinctions, role of St Paul Science Museum, increasing activity in Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Bob’s fossil mammal collecting and discoveries in Montana during early 1960s.

Session 5

Collaboration with Leigh Van Valen, Paleocene mammal radiations, visual associations and thinking, Purgatory Hill and collecting the early Paleocene deposits during the early 1960s, multituberculate evolution, Bob’s multituberculate short course at U Minnesota.

Session 6

Multituberculate short course, Bob’s interaction with Simpson and Jepsen, research on early primates, publishing successes for Bob, SVP meetings and Bob’s presentations, legacies as a paleontologist.

Session 7

University days at the University of Chicago in the late 1940s. Hutchins’ education reforms. Joining the National Guard. Beginning the Ph.D. programme.

Session 8

Bob’s final undergraduate year. Beginning geological training at Chicago.

Session 9

Moving into graduate training in paleontology at the University of Chicago.

Session 10

Paleontology training at Chicago, continued. Dissertation research. Coming to University of Minnesota. Beginning teaching in Department of Geology.

Session 11

Family recollections and growing up in Chicago during the 1930s. Bob’s father. Model building and hobbies.

Session 12

Family recollections. Bob’s mother. Siblings. Life as a child growing up. Family politics and religion. Growing up within the family.

Session 13

Family. Bob’s skills in crafts. Reflections on activities as a paleontologist.

Session 14

Staff at the University of Chicago. Their place in history of evolutionary theory, teaching style, personal quirks. Bob’s early research career at University of Minnesota. Developing research programme. Bob’s broken leg.

Session 15

Evolving research programme while at University of Minnesota. Training students. Production of RI 35. Development of geology department at University of Minnesota. Beginning to work with computers. Role of amateurs. Thoughts on theory of punctuated equilibrium.

Session 16

Bob’s thoughts on his scientific legacy, future of his ideas, future of paleontology at University of Minnesota.