AASP – The Palynological Society

Promoting the scientific understanding of palynology since 1967

History of Palynology

The Background, Origin, and Early History of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Palynology 7: 7-18 (1983).

Department of Geosciences 
Pennsylvania State University 
University Park, Pennsylvania 16802

Amoco Canada Petroleum Co., Ltd. 
444 7th Ave. S. W. 
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P OY2


The authors, who in various ways were involved, document the conception, birth, infancy, and early childhood of AASP. It is emphasized that although there was a very good, positive spirit among the first cadres of members, the early years were not easy. There was some opposition and withholding of support, and it was several years before the membership was large enough to assure continued health. Two positive factors helped strengthen the infant organization: the de facto subsidy by various American oil companies, and the early association of AASP with universities, as evidenced for example by the occurrence of the first three annual conventions on university campuses.


The history of any organization is of interest to its members and to others for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the developments of the past often have considerable impact on the present and future. Furthermore, if the nature of an organization is influenced by its past, it is important that the understanding of that past be based on correctly reported and correctly understood facts. History has also a not insignificant responsibility to credit the contributions of individuals of the past correctly, in the spirit of truth. Too often are later generations fed legend instead of truth. The history of science and scientific associations is no less important than the history of other important human endeavors. The authors of this short history of the origin of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists intend to record the significant facts, while their memories are still clear and their records still intact.

The history of formation of scientific organizations by persons studying fossil spores/pollen and other palynomorphs follows rather closely the general history of the subject. Although Ehrenberg, Goeppert, and others looked at pre-Quaternary palynomorphs well over a century ago, the early history of palynology belongs to the students of postglacial (Flandrian) sediments and of modern spores and pollen. The beginning of "pollen-analysis" is usually set at 1916, with the publication of L. von Post's peat studies. The name palynology was introduced in 1944 by Hyde and Williams, two "actuopollen" investigators. In North America, though Thiessen and others had looked at spores/pollen in coal and other thin sections in the early 1900s, the majority of palynomorph (as we would now say) studies were in the direction of late Neogene pollen analysis along von Postian-Erdtmanian lines until well into the 1940s. Beginning in the late 1920s, and continuing into the 1940s, pollen analysis researchers met more or less informally to exchange information, and published their formal papers in a great variety of journals. Beginning in 1943 and off and on until 1954, there appeared in North America a somewhat informal little journal, the Pollen and Spore Circular. Nowadays we would call it a "newsletter." It was produced at first under the auspices of Paul B. Sears (Oberlin College; later at Yale University). From 1948 on, Sears and L. R. Wilson (Coe College, later in this period at University of Massachusetts and New York University) got out the Circular jointly. To be on the mailing list of the "PSC" was as close as one could come to belonging to a palynological society at that time! "PSC" included information about pre-Quaternary spores/pollen, but its emphasis was mostly Quaternary. Some Quaternary spores/pollen analysts, such as J. E. Potzger, were active in the Paleobotanical Section of the Botanical Society of America, and that organization, from its foundation in 1936 (Traverse, 1960), included pre-Quaternary spore researchers, such as James M. Schopf, among its membership. In February 1953 Stanley Cain of the University of Michigan organized a meeting at Yale of palynologists, mostly from the northeastern U.S. This meeting became known as the "First National Pollen Conference." A "Second National Pollen Conference" met in December 1953 in Boston, under sponsorship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Later, in 1956, Kathryn Clisby, an associate of Sears, hosted the "Third National Pollen Conference" at Oberlin College, attended by about 50 persons working in various aspects of palynology, including preQuaternary work. (One of us A. T. roomed with James M. Schopf at this session.) The Paleobotanical Section of the Botanical Society of America had held special sessions on palynological systematics at its 1955 and 1956 meetings. Mostly at the behest of Alfred Traverse (then an officer of PSBSA), the Section then sponsored special palynological programs labelled the "Fourth" and "Fifth National Pollen Conferences," as part of the annual meetings of 1957 and 1958, respectively. The idea was to provide a forum under the aegis of the Paleobotanical Section of the "Bot.Soc." for palynological meetings and to keep microand megafossil people together. These fond hopes were not realized. As one of us has already noted elsewhere (Traverse, 1974), most palynologists of the late 1950s did not regard themselves as paleobotanists. Many were in fact geologists. Increasingly they were employed by oil companies, and the aims of their research were mostly stratigraphic. Further, some of the megafossil paleobotanists were unhappy about the prospect that the Paleobotanical Section would be dominated by palynologists if it became the primary organizational focus for paleopalynology in North America. In a way, this was related to an early sampling of opinion of spores/pollen researchers that might have led to formation of an American palynological society a decade earlier than it occurred. John F. Grayson, an oil company palynologist, in 1957 polled over 60 palynologists as to their desires on palynological organization, stating in his report on the study that he personally was "... very much in favor of a separate palynological organization." Forty-eight of the 62 respondees to Grayson's questionnaire favored a separate palynological organization. Grayson stated in a discussion period at the Paleobotanical Section's Fifth National Pollen Conference in 1957 (Palo Alto, California) that part of his motivation was concern that it was not fair to either the Paleobotanical Section, or to the palynologists, for the Paleobotanical Section to become a de facto palynological society. Grayson was probably right. Traverse had hoped to have a "palynological committee" as part of the structure of the Paleobotanical Section, and what he had in mind was not unlike the organization of the present Arbeitskreis fiir Palaobotanik und Palynologie in Germany. However, the increasing numbers of people becoming paleopalynologists in North America, and their prevailingly non-academic orientation, pointed in another direction. At the same time, Grayson's questionnaire did not result in the birth of a society, partly because some of us who might have helped were still hoping to avoid just that event!

A little later, well attended international meetings such as the First International Conference on Palynology, held in Tucson, Arizona, in 1962, made it clear that palynology, especially paleopalynology, was growing so rapidly that the time for formal organization was ripe. Among other things, there was a real possibility that a truly International Society would come into being from the International Committee established at the Tucson Conference to arrange for the Second International Conference at Utrecht. Indeed, this International Committee did evolve into the International Commission for Palynology, the present sponsoring body for the International Conferences. ("ICP" is now a Federation of about 20 palynological societies worldwide and is a constituent body of both the International Union of Biological Sciences, and the International Union of Geological Sciences.) Curiously, it was the move toward an international organization that brought about the formation of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists!


The improbable location of the early discussions which led up to the next attempt to form a North American palynological society was Krefeld, West Germany. A group of palynologists assembled at the Krefelder Hof on 26 August 1966, to consider P. K. K. Nair's proposal to establish a World Palynological Organization headquartered in Lucknow, India. Four North America-based palynologists were present at the meeting: G. O. W. Kremp, L. E. Stover, H. J. Sullivan, and L. R. Wilson. During the deliberations, which centered on the relative merits of regional and specialist groups, as opposed to international organizations, it was suggested that perhaps this was an opportune time to resurrect the concept of a North American palynological society. Herb Sullivan volunteered to prepare and distribute a questionnaire to determine the measure of support for such a society.

During the following six months, Sullivan made informal contacts with a number of palynologists, and there appeared to be strong support in North America for a palynological society which emphasized the biostratigraphic aspects of the science in pre-Pleistocene rocks. Individual mailing lists solicited from colleagues were consolidated into a comprehensive register, and this formed the basis for the first mailing of the questionnaire to 151 palynologists on 30 March 1967. A further 111 persons were later contacted as a result of a request in the circular to submit additional names. Recipients were asked whether they were in favor of participating in an association of stratigraphic palynologists, and their views were sought on the name, affiliations and function of the proposed society. Of the 262 copies of the circular distributed, 155 were completed and returned. The tally showed that 140 voted in favor of a society, nine were opposed, and six elected not to commit themselves at that stage. The strong measure of support for the proposal provided the mandate to organize a business meeting, and invitations were extended to all palynologists who had replied to the questionnaire.


Thirty-two palynologists gathered for the organizational meeting in a conference room of the Pan American (now Amoco) Petroleum Company's Research Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 8 December 1967. In attendance were the following (see also Plate 1):


O. Ben Bourn
Robert T. Clarke
Fritz H. Cramer 
William C. Elsik 
George R. Fournier 
John F, Grayson 
George F. Hart 
Richard W. Hedlund 
William S. Hopkins, Jr. 
Arthur E. LeBlanc 
Dennis R. Logan D. 
Colin McGregor 
William C. Meyers 
David R. Mishell 
Paul W. Nygreen 
Earl T. Peterson Kenneth M. Piel 

Delbert E. Potter 
William A. S. Sarjeant 
Mart P. Schemel 
Bernard L. Shaffer 
Howard M. Simpson 
Lewis E. Stover 
Herbert J. Sullivan 
Robert L. Tabbert 
Mel W. Thompson 
Alfred Traverse 
Charles F. Upshaw 
Logan L. Urban 
James B. Urban 
William F. Von Almen 
Graham L. Williams

Bob Tabbert was elected chairman of the meeting, and Herb Sullivan was appointed recording secretary. The first item of business was the proposal to form a society and a statement of its aims. The motion, "The objects of this society are to promote the science of palynology, especially as they relate to stratigraphic applications and to biostratigraphy; to foster the spirit of scientific research among its members; and to disseminate information relating to palynology," was carried by an overwhelming majority.

A name was now required for the new society. In the March 1966 circular, it was suggested that the Society of North American Palynologists (SNAP) might be appropriate, and this name received a majority of the votes (18) in the first ballot at the founding meeting. However, because of the voting procedures agreed upon at the meeting, only the name receiving the lowest number of votes in each ballot was eliminated, so that by the third ballot the name "American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists" emerged the victor by a 17 to 14 vote (one abstention). The debate on the duties and mode of election of officers then took most of the rest of that day, and it is a testimony to the quality of the deliberations that the composition of the executive, and the definition of its duties remain generally unaltered to the present day.

The voting for officers took place in the late afternoon and the following morning. Elected were:

President Paul W. Nygreen
Vice-President D. Colin McGregor
Secretary-Treasurer Alfred Traverse
Editor Lewis E. Stover
Councillors Robert L. Tabbert
  Charles F. Upshaw
  George R. Fournier

All present were accorded the status of "Founding Members." Paul Nygreen (seePlate 2, fig. 1) concluded by announcing that those at this meeting had "witnessed the birth of a new society" (by coincidence, 8 December is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and that he was going to appoint several committees to help in the organization of the association. The first meeting of the new Executive Committee was called for the afternoon of 9 December.


Despite newly-elected President Nygreen's sanguine estimate of the situation, the first several years of AASP's existence were not absolutely problemless, as one of us (A. T.), the first SecretaryTreasurer, can attest. First, the original membership of less than 40 was obviously not large enough for an effective society to operate and, although AASP began to grow fast immediately following the formal announcement of its existence, the growth did not provide for several years the threshold membership necessary for a secure, healthy society. By the end of the first "post-Tulsa" Executive Committee session in Dallas, 28-29 March 1968 (Plate 2, fig. 2), the paid-up membership stood at 83. By the time of the First Annual Meeting (= Convention) at Louisiana State University, 17-19 October 1968 (Plate 3, fig. 1), the total membership was 188 personal members, plus one institutional member, and by the end of 1968 there were over 200 members on the books. This represented a dramatic, almost 700% increase in one year, but that is partly a comment on the small founding membership. For some time after the rapid rise to around 200 in 1968, new memberships barely balanced lapsed memberships, so that at the Second Annual Meeting at the Pennsylvania State University, 18-22 October 1969 (Plate 4), the fully paid-up membership was only 201. It was to be some time before the total membership increased much beyond the 200-300 level.

Furthermore, during the critical years of formation, 1967-1970, the names of a number of the most prominent paleopalynologists in North America are not to be found on AASP's membership roster. Several of them were, in fact, opposed to the formation of AASP, and did not wish it well, let alone join! The reasons were diverse, for example that the founders of AASP allegedly did not sufficiently consult with or fully inform the persons concerned about the birth-procedures for the new organization. Other persons adopted a wait-and-see attitude and did not in fact join AASP until years later, when it was a going concern with a proven "winner" in a Proceedings volume worth more than the dues. Still other persons either feared that AASP was and would be dominated by a clique, or would be oilcompany dominated, or they felt that such an organization should not be independent, but should be affiliated with one of the larger scientific organizations, or with the nascent International Commission for Palynology.

It is clear that the biggest boosts to AASP in the formative 1967-1970 years were the very wellattended and scientifically productive Annual Meetings at LSU, Penn State and the University of Toronto in 1968, 1969, and 1970, respectively. The appearance of thick and useful proceedings volumes devoted mostly to papers and abstracts from the AASP conventions was also a major factor in signalling that AASP was to be taken seriously. The proceedings volumes appeared at first as issues of the LSU-based journal Geoscience and Man. It proved confusing to many (the Penn State librarian is still puzzled) that AASP Proc. I is Geoseience and Man Vol. I, but AASP Proc. 2 is Geoscience and Man Vol. III, AASP Proc. 3 is Geoscience and Man Vol. IV, AASP Proc. 4 is Geoscience and Man Vol. VII, etc. (After AASP Proc. 7, the Association established its own Journal, Palynology, and bibliographers sighed with relief.) The Secretary's minutes covering the period from the founding meeting in Tulsa, December 1967, to the Third Annual Meeting in Toronto, October 1970, reveal some quite interesting, easily forgotten things. First, the attitude of everybody at the founding meeting was very confident and forwardlooking. We were sure that we had moved in the right direction in starting a paleopalynological society at this time and that it would "go." The Sullivan questionnaire had been a well-struck match to light the fire. Enthusiasm and commitment ran deep. (It was to be several years before there was a single absence at Executive Committee sessions, though the meetings were called for some unlikely places, such as O'Hare Airport March 1970!) However, there was considerable opposition to the new organization, as the founding Secretary-Treasurer is doubtless in the best position to recall from countless contacts on behalf of AASP he made between the founding meeting and the end of his term, in October 1970. The inner circle of officers remained a quite small group for several years, as can be seen easily by comparing the officers for 1968-1970 with the above-listed slate of founding officers:

1968-69   1969-70
Charles F. Upshaw President George R. Fournier
George R. Fournier Vice-President Geoffrey Norris
Alfred Traverse Secretary-Treasurer Alfred Traverse
Lewis E. Stover Editor Richard W. Hedlund
Paul W. Nygreen Past-President (Councillor) Charles F. Upshaw
Marsha R. Winslow Councillor Daniel Habib
Richard W. Hedlund Councillor John W. Hall

(For a photo of the 1968-69 group at work, see Plate 3, fig. 2.) There were those who viewed these lists as proof of clique-control. In fact, the cohesiveness and commitment of this group of people helped to assure the survival in good health of the infant organization.

The minutes of the early Executive Committee meetings are very informative reading after an intervening decade and a half, during which AASP has become a solid, prosperous society with about 800 members, its own journal and an endowed foundation. Doing things properly, and good communication were recognized as important from the beginning, and thus the first Newsletter and the constitution of the Association were circulated to the membership in 1968, even before the first annual convention! Cooperation with other groups of scientists was another early focus of attention, and one of the first checks ever drawn on an AASP account was for $25, sent from the tiny post-Tulsa treasury to the 1969 Paleontological Convention in Chicago, to make AASP an official supporting organization of that session. However, opposition was expressed from the very beginning to AASP being a formally affiliated section or division of any other society -- an independent society was desired. That AASP survived its birth and infancy despite opposition is mostly attributable to three factors.

First, a broadly based group of palynologists shared enthusiasm for the new venture, and the time was ripe. Second, cooperation and financial encouragement was forthcoming from oil company management. This made possible large attendance at the early annual meetings and perfect attendance at early Executive Committee sessions. Likewise facilitated were such other critical matters as very low dues ($5.00 per annum), far below the real cost of providing members with a Proceedings Volume, Newsletters, and a Membership Directory useful to any palynologist and alone worth the dues payment. All of these publications were made possible by de facto subsidies from most of the major oil companies. Third, a few university palynologists participated from the beginning, and they hosted on campus the first three, well-attended, stimulating and informative annual meetings at Louisiana State University, the Pennsylvania State University and the University of Toronto. These meetings gave indisputable scientific-academic credibility to AASP.


HYDE, H. A., and WILLIAMS, D. A. 1944
The right word. Pollen and Spore Circular 8:6.

P.S.B.S.A. the oldest organization of paleobotanists in the world. Plant Science Bulletin (Botanical Society of America) 6:3:1-4.

_______ 1974
Paleopalynology 1947-1972. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 61:1:203-236.


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