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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Paul B. Sears
(2012.201.B1158.0491, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).

SEARS, PAUL BIGELOW (1891–1990).

Botanist and ecologist Paul B. Sears was born on December 17, 1891, in Bucyrus, Ohio, to Rufus Victor and Sallie Harris Sears. After public school, Paul Sears received bachelor's degrees in zoology (1913) and economics (1914) from Ohio Wesleyan University, a master's degree at the University of Nebraska (1915), and a doctorate at the University of Chicago (1922). The young scholar quickly began a teaching career that led from the University of Nebraska (1919–28) to the University of Oklahoma (chair of the botany department, 1928–38), Oberlin University (1938–50), and finally to Yale University (chair of the conservation program) from 1950 until his 1960 retirement.

During his lifetime he became the one of the nation's leading ecologists, his books exploring the place of humans in the balance of nature, analyzing historical use and misuse of the environment, and expounding the dangers of pollution and the necessity for conservation. From 1928 to 1939 Sears also served as botanist for the Oklahoma Biological Survey, established in 1927 as a research unit of the University of Oklahoma. During mid-1930s he chaired a legislative advisory committee studying the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma in order to draft a soil conservation district law. Sears recommended adopting immediate, mandatory soil conservation methods and planting wheat fields with cover crops and native grasses. In his view, the petroleum industry would eventually fail, leaving only agriculture as the state's economic mainstay, and, therefore, soil conservation planning was imperative.

Sears's important book Deserts on the March, published in 1935 by the University of Oklahoma Press, became a classic in cultural ecology. Revised and reprinted four times, it became especially popular during the 1960s environmental awareness campaign. As much philosopher, historian, and literary stylist as scientist, he published widely, and his significant books include This Is Our World (1937, 1971), Charles Darwin: The Naturalist as a Cultural Force (1950), and The Ecology of Man (1957). Paul B. Sears died April 30, 1990, in Taos, New Mexico.

Dianna Everett


American Men of Science: A Biographical Directory, 4 vols. (10th ed; Tempe, Ariz.: Jacques Cattell Press, Inc., 1960–61).

Mary Hays Marable and Elaine Boylan, A Handbook of Oklahoma Writers (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939).

"Paul B. Sears," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Sears, Paul Bigelow,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=SE001.

Published January 15, 2010

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