Talks on people, plants, and place
Our mid-week afternoon lecture series continues this fall with three talks designed to stimulate and enrich. Our speakers will take you beyond our garden, to their worlds in the arts, humanities, sciences, sustainability, ornithology, and travel.A reception with refreshments will follow each presentation and tours of the Arboretum are available afterward. Register online or call (215) 247-5777, ext. 125.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 4 | 3:00pm
Special: Members bring a guest at the Member price!
Members: $15 / Non-members: $20
Speaker: Keith Thomson
Executive Officer, American Philosophical Society
Learn more about this speaker
Thomas Jefferson once wrote to a friend that politics was his “duty” but natural history was his “passion.” Despite his demanding public life Jefferson somehow had time to be one of America’s first serious students of fossils, botany, climate, geology, and anthropology, becoming a leading American scientific intellectual of his time. Our speaker, author Keith Thomson will introduce us to Jefferson’s fascinating world, exploring our third president’s passion for natural history, and highlighting how it related to everything he did—as a farmer, as a philosopher, and as a citizen. Author of more than a dozen books on evolution, paleontology, and the history of science, in recent years Thomson has focused more on writing for a popular audience. Keith Thomson is currently Executive Officer of the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin. He is also emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Oxford and was President of Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.
Drew Becher became the 36th President of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in June 2010. Under his leadership, PHS has initiated the Plant One Million campaign to restore the region’s tree canopy; expanded the PHS City Harvest program, which provides fresh produce to more than 1,000 families in need each week during the growing season; initiated the PHS Pop Up projects; and introduced exciting new features at the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show.
Becher had been Executive Director of the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), which was founded by entertainer and environmentalist Bette Midler in 1995. Becher led the non-profit NYRP since 2006, and during his tenure was a respected leader in the city’s greening and beautification initiatives.
In 2007, Becher and NYRP partnered with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to launch MillionTreesNYC, which has led to the planting of more than 375,000 trees in New York City’s five boroughs to date. Becher was also responsible for raising millions in revenue for capital projects; revamping NYRP’s environmental educational programs for more than 10,000 children in underserved communities; and expanding the organization’s programs for community gardeners and volunteers.
Becher led nearly 100 staffers and 37 AmeriCorps members in 10 departments in one of New York’s most successful and forward-thinking environmental organizations. In addition to creating a corporate giving program that increased funding by 250 percent, he raised more than $6 million for capital projects to rejuvenate 55 community gardens on 140 acres of land.
He previously served as Deputy Director of Washington, D.C.’s Office of Planning (2004-06), where he led the creation of the Department of Environment, and before that was associate director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
Becher also served as Chief of Staff for the Chicago Park District (1996-2004) and Assistant to Mayor. He helped forge Mayor Richard M. Daley’s acclaimed environmental and beautification agenda that contributed to Chicago’s recent placement on the Forbes list of the world’s most beautiful cities. Becher created and led many of the initiatives that are now hallmarks of Chicago’s urban renaissance.
Becher currently serves on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Executive Committee of Greater Philadelphia Gardens, and on the boards of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Rodale Institute, Philadelphia Parkway Council Foundation, and City Parks Alliance. He is also the recipient of the University of Cincinnati Kautz Alumni Masters Award.
PHS, the nation’s first horticultural society, founded in 1827, motivates and inspires people to improve the quality of life and transform their communities through horticulture. PHS’s signature initiatives – the Philadelphia International Flower Show, City Harvest and Plant One Million – uphold a tradition of quality horticulture, sustainable community development, and floral and landscape design that inspires gardeners throughout the nation.
Harris M. Steinberg, FAIA, is the founding executive director of PennPraxis, the applied research arm of the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. He is an adjunct associate professor of city and regional planning at Penn where he teaches a second year graduate planning design studio. Recent studio topics include a plan for 93-acres of air rights development above the Amtrak rail lines at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and a study of six cities in North America that are considering removing interstate highways.
PennPraxis was founded in 2001 with a mission to extend design excellence beyond the classroom and into the community. It does so by fostering faculty and student collaboration on real world projects across the five disciplines of the school: architecture, landscape architecture, city and regional planning, historic preservation and fine arts. PennPraxis projects led by PennDesign faculty range from the creation of sustainable design standards for the country of Qatar in the Middle East to the conservation of beehive kilns in a defunct brickworks in Helena, Montana.
Civic visioning is a hallmark of Harris’ work at PennPraxis. His projects include the 2006-2007 award-winning A Civic Vision for the Central Delaware; a public planning process that engaged more than 4000 Philadelphians in over 200 meetings in 13-months. The process altered planning history in Philadelphia and the vision is now guiding development along the Delaware River. Other civic visioning projects include the 2008 Reimaging the Kimmel Center; the 2010 Green2015: An action plan to add 500 acres of new park space in Philadelphia; and the recent More Park, Less Way: An action plan to increase urban vibrancy on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Harris has lectured nationally and internationally on the role of civic engagement in city planning. He is a frequent participant on conference panels where he speaks to the significance of the relationship between civic life, creative place making and public policy in city building. In addition, Harris has led national design teams for the American Institute of Architects Sustainable Design Assistance Team program. SDAT projects, which engage the local community and key stakeholders in an intensive series of public meetings and interviews over three days leading to key urban planning recommendations, include work along the Miami River in Miami, Florida; the Route 7 Corridor outside Shelburne, Vermont; and the South Shore Central lakefront in Austin, Texas.
Harris received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania and his Master of Architecture degree from Penn where he was awarded the Paul Phillipe Cret Prize for Architectural Design. He is the recipient of the Young Architects Award from the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA and in 2006 was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects. From 2001 to 2006, he served as an appointed member of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
Keith Stewart Thomson became the American Philosophical Society’s Executive Officer on July 1, 2012.
Keith Stewart Thomson graduated from the University of Birmingham (UK) in 1960 and then moved to Harvard University, earning a Ph.D. in Biology in 1963. His dissertation was on the evolution of air-breathing at the transition between fishes and the first land animals.
He continued to study both fossil and living fishes when he returned to England as NATO post-doctoral fellow at University College London (1963-1965) before going to Yale University (1965-1987), first as a faculty member of the Biology Department, where he was also appointed Curator of Fishes in the Peabody Museum of Natural History and later as its Director, and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. At Yale his studies of ancient fishes inevitably drew him both to the “living fossil” lungfishes and the extraordinary living coelacanth. In 1966 he obtained for study the first fresh specimen of the coelacanth from the Comoro Islands (Living Fossil, Norton, 1991). His overall goal was to understand fossils in the same physiological, biomechanical, and ecological terms as we study living animals. In the process he published more than 200 papers on subjects ranging from the evolution of cell size and DNA content in lungfish, and intracranial mechanics in the coelacanth and its fossil relatives, to the origin of the tetrapod middle ear and the body shape and swimming mechanics of sharks. From an early interest in embryology, it was but a short step to study the roles that developmental processes play in evolution, and to writing Morphogenesis and Evolution (Oxford University Press, 1988). As an evolutionary biologist he naturally became interested in Charles Darwin and that led to a broader interest in the history of science (for example HMS Beagle, the Story of Darwin’s Ship, Norton, 1995).
He moved to Philadelphia as President and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences (1987-1995), which included heading a successful capital campaign for a new library building and a research laboratory on Chesapeake Bay.
In 1996 he was appointed University Distinguished Scientist-in-Residence at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he introduced the first science curriculum and taught both biology and history of science.
In 1998 he was elected to be the first director (in modern times) of the Oxford University Museum, Professor of Natural History, and a Fellow of Kellogg College. At Oxford he was heavily involved in the creation of a new national program of funding for regional (i.e. not state-funded) museums.
After retiring in 2003 he returned to Philadelphia to write, and was based at the American Philosophical Society as Senior Research Fellow.
His recent books include: The Watch on the Heath (HarperCollins, published in the USA as Before Darwin by Yale University Press) and Fossils: a Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press), both in 2005; The Legacy of the Mastodon (Yale University Press, 2008); A Passion for Nature: Thomas Jefferson and Natural History (University of North Carolina Press for the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 2008); and The Young Charles Darwin (Yale University Press, 2009). Released in November 2012 was Jefferson’s Shadow: the Story of his Science (Yale University Press). He has a regular column, “Marginalia,” in the magazine American Scientist.