Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Hill, Michael R. 1993. “Mentoring, Paradigmatic Change, and Institutional Structure: Charles E. Bessey and the Origins of the Seminarium Botanicum at the University of Nebraska.” Paper presented to the Charles E. Bessey Symposium, Historical Section, Botanical Society of America, Iowa State University.


Copyright 1993 Michael R. Hill


The Seminarium Botanicum was a student scientific club that originated at the University of Nebraska during the closing years of the nineteenth century under the supportive eye of botanist Charles E. Bessey. The “Sem. Bot.” (as the club was known popularly) provided a mainspring for the paradigmatic development of the American school of plant ecology (Tobey, 1981). Based on archival materials at Harvard University, the State Historical Society of Nebraska, and the universities of Nebraska and Wyoming, this paper identifies the interpersonal dynamics and institutional matrix by means of which the “Sem. Bot.” became a catalyst for intellectual inquiry. The youth and exuberance of the Sem. Bot. participants, the relatively flexible bureaucratic structure of the turn-of-the- century university, and Bessey’s laissez-faire mentoring style combined to create an educational climate conducive to productive scientific innovation.