Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
He served as special assistant to the Academy’s president and director of the Academy’s natural history museum before being named “Fellow of the Academy” in 1983. In 2000 he assumed additional responsibilities as the Academy’s curator of art and artifacts and editor of scientific publications. From 2003–2007 he served as librarian of the Academy. In 2003 he was named senior fellow of the Academy.
Mr. Peck is the author of The Natural History of Edward Lear (2016), A Celebration of Birds: The Life and Art of Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1982), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), and William Bartram’s Travels (1980), and co-author of All In The Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (2008) and A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science (2012). He has written for a wide range of popular and scholarly magazines and newspapers, including Nature, Audubon, National Wildlife, International Wildlife, Arts, Antiques, Image, Terra, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The New York Times.
In 1990 he authored Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America, the companion volume to an eight-part BBC/PBS television series of the same title, which deals with the discovery and exploration of America from a natural history point of view. Within weeks of its appearance in Great Britain, Mr. Peck’s book went onto the U.K. Best-Seller List, where it remained for nine weeks (reaching the #3 slot in April 1990). The German edition, Im Land Des Adlers (1992) also achieved best-seller status. It was selected by The New York Times as one of the best science books of the year. Mr. Peck’s book, A Glorious Enterprise (co-authored with Patricia Tyson Stroud), was nominated for several awards in the history of science.
An active member of the Explorers Club (which has honored him with its Explorers Award and its "Medal for Integrity and Courage"), Mr. Peck has developed a special interest in the history of exploration, retracing the travel routes of a number of 18th- and 19th-century naturalists, including William Bartram, John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Alexander Von Humboldt, John Burroughs, and John Muir.
He has served as a natural history consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Library, Readers Digest Books, David Attenborough, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1989 a new species of South American frog (one of three new species he discovered during an expedition to Ecuador) was named in his honor.
In 1991 Mr. Peck was honored by the Academy of Natural Sciences’ Richard Hopper Day Medal for his work in interpreting natural history to the public. (Other recipients of the medal have included Jacques Piccard, Louis Leakey, Ruth Patrick, David Attenborough, Lewis Thomas, Gerald Durrell, Stephen Ambrose, and Sylvia Earle.)
As the Eleanor Garvey fellow in printing and graphic arts at Harvard University’s Houghton Library and as a fellow of the Yale Center for British Art, Mr. Peck has pursued research on the 19th century naturalist, writer, and artist Edward Lear. In 2012 he guest curated a bicentennial exhibition on Lear for Houghton Library.
Mr. Peck has traveled widely on behalf of the Academy of Natural Sciences, accompanying research expeditions in Nepal (1983), Ecuador (1984, 1992, and 1998), Venezuela (1985 and 1987), South Africa (1993), Botswana, (1993), Namibia (1993), Siberia (1994), Guyana (1997), and Mongolia (seven expeditions, 1994–2011).
In recognition of his deep knowledge of the cultural and natural history of Mongolia, Mr. Peck was invited by President George W. Bush to represent the United States at ceremonies marking Mongolia’s 800th birthday in Ulaanbaatar in July 2006. The presidential delegation consisted of Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Mrs. Johanns, and Mr. Peck.
His photographs have been published in books, journals, and magazines and exhibited in museums across the U.S. His one-man photographic exhibition documenting nomadic life in Central Asia has been shown at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the American Museum of Natural History, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Mongolian Embassy, Washington, D.C.
From 1999–2000 he assisted the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, with the national traveling exhibition on John James Audubon in the West and contributed a chapter to the catalog/book that accompanied the exhibition. In 2007 he was a consultant for and commentator on an American Masters documentary entitled “John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature” for PBS.
In 2001 Mr. Peck served as historian for a retracing of Edward Harriman’s 1899 expedition to Alaska organized by the Clark Science Center at Smith College and as a commentator for the two-hour documentary film that was made about it. “The Harriman Expedition Retraced” was broadcast on PBS in 2004.
Mr. Peck has been honored with Philadelphia’s Wyck-Strickland Award for outstanding contributions to the cultural life of Philadelphia. In 2012 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Delaware.
Mr. Peck has been honored with the Sarah Chapman Francis Medal for environmental writing by the Garden Club of America (2015) and the David S. Ingalls, Jr Award for Excellence, Cleveland Museum of Natural History. (Previous recipients have included: Stephen Jay Gould, Roger Tory Peterson, Edward O. Wilson, Roger Conant, Jane Goodall, and Peter Raven) (2018).
He was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome in 2014 and 2017.
A full curriculum vitae and publications list are available by request.
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- Robert M. Peck
The Academy of Natural Sciences
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parklway
Philadelphia, PA 19103