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About UCMP : History of UCMP

William B.N. Berry, seventh director of UCMP

By Joseph T. Gregory1

William Berry
William B.N. Berry.

The appointment of Professor William B.N. Berry, an invertebrate paleontologist, as Director of the Museum broke a long succession of vertebrate specialists in this post. While an undergraduate at Harvard, he was told by geology professor Harry Whittington that nobody in North America was working on graptolites and suggested these would be a good subject for a dissertation. So Berry took Whittington's advice and chose to do his work on graptolites at Yale. Shell Oil became interested in the stratigraphic aspects of Berry's studies and funded his field work in Texas. After completing his doctorate at Yale in 1967, Berry taught for one year at the University of Houston before coming to Berkeley.

Berry is a widely recognized authority on Paleozoic stratigraphy and has been a member of the International Stratigraphic Commission Subcommittees on the Ordovician and Silurian Systems. As his initial studies were on graptolites, he published extensively on their systematics, structure, and significance for correlation of early Paleozoic rocks. With a focus on stratigraphy, several papers using graptolite faunas to illustrate principles of stratigraphic interpretation were published through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1966-67 Berry held a Guggenheim Fellowship at Cambridge University where he worked on the evolution of Silurian graptolites.

His correlation studies led to publications on continental tectonics and development; the environmental significance of graptolite assemblages; and the depth zonation of graptolites. This work was extended to the paleoecology of shelly faunas of the early and middle Paleozoic; faunal replacement; and also the environments and facies of shallow marine platforms. In the 1990s Berry and Dr. Stanley Finney developed models of the coastal distribution of graptolites and the relationship of oceanographic conditions to graptolite distribution and extinction.

As Director of UCMP (1975-88), Berry instituted a series of changes in the operation of the Museum to increase its public visibility and outreach. The Museum took part in the annual campus-wide Open Houses; collaborated with the Lawrence Hall of Science in various special exhibits, lectures and other programs; and developed public contacts through visits to schools and special lectures. The Director's reports to the Chancellor were published and distributed to interested faculty, alumni, and colleagues at other institutions; they also were illustrated with photographs. In 1979 UCMP sponsored the first University-wide paleontology conference, now known as CalPaleo, a program which has grown to include participants from other college-level institutions in the state. All these activities were directed toward popularizing paleontology.

Berry also played an active role in the development of computerized catalogues for UCMP during the 1960s. With John Rensberger, he published on the structure of the Berkeley catalogues in Curator and in the Journal of Paleontology. The UCMP catalogue became a model for other museums throughout the world.

While in the Department of Paleontology at Berkeley, Berry taught basic courses on invertebrate paleontology, life and environments of the past, stratigraphy, and advanced courses on invertebrate paleontology of the Paleozoic and early Mesozoic. He also developed courses on marine geobiology, biogeography, and principles of systematics and biogeography.

Professor Berry elected to transfer to the Department of Geology and Geophysics in 1989 when the Paleontology Department became part of the new Department of Integrative Biology. As a member of Geology and Geophysics, now Earth & Planetary Science, Berry continues to teach in environmental geology, climate change and paleoceanography.

1From UCMP News, March 1998, with minor updates by Dave Smith, 2008. Photo from UCMP News, March 1998; original provenance unknown.