Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
A few years later, in 1941, Roger Tory Peterson wrote and illustrated a second book on birds, as a geographic sequel, entitled: A Field Guide to the Western Birds. In that 'field guide', he wrote a significant and interesting narrative about Ralph Hoffmann. Roger Tory Peterson wrote these words 9 years after the death of Ralph Hoffmann.
This article will show that Ralph Hoffmann preceded Peterson with his field guide and that he influenced Peterson. Other scientists, naturalists, and birders have been inspired by Hoffmann's book, even more than 60 years after Hoffmann's last book and his death, simply through his good writing, knowledge, and inspiration that he put into his books. My humble contribution with this article is part of a larger project as a comparative biography and history of Ralph Hoffmann, not only in California, but also in Massachusetts. Additionally, two counties, from these two states are being investigated compartively, namely Santa Barbara County and Berkshire County. This project hopes to accomplish a dual comparison at both a national and regional level with a perspective of Ralph Hoffmann toward both native birds and native plants.
Presented below are excerpts by Roger Tory Peterson from all three editions regarding his acknowledgement of Ralph Hoffmann's talents, but you will also see displayed a subtle competition that Peterson expressed toward Hoffmann's field handbook. The result is that it elevates the stature of Peterson's own book, so that the public consumer of this book, particularly birders, scientists, and naturalists, would need to buy his book. Ralph Hoffmann's name has been placed in "bold" text to highlight that the use of Hoffmann's name diminishes after the first edition to only one time in the second and third edition. Interestingly and oddly, in the third edition, Peterson used Hoffmann's first name of "Ralph" together with his surname. The first name is also highlighted in "bold" text. Finally, I placed the word "field" and the phrase "pocket size" in bold text to show that Peterson was showing a subtle difference to distinguish his book from Hoffmann's book. However, I think that the Peterson said it appropriately in his first edition, where he wrote that the two books compliment each other. After using both of these books together in the field as practice and with groups of people on tours, it still seems to be the case that these two books compliment each other, particularly in southern California.
A careful perusal shows a greatly abbreviated narrative about Ralph Hoffmann in the second and third edition to only one sentence in length. Whereas in the first edition of 1941, there were four sentences. Secondly, the part of the quotation that discusses that the two handbooks by Hoffmann and Peterson "could be most effectively used as a companion piece" was eliminated by Peterson. Thirdly, the compliment about Hoffmann's talent at description of the voices of the birds and their habitats were completely removed by Peterson. One wonders why of course?
Thus far, I have discovered two additional birding books that have acknowledged Ralph Hoffmann in the last 20 years. They are a book on warblers of North America by Dunn and Garrett (1997) and another book on shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest by Paulson (1993). These two books are a clear indication that the importance and influence of Ralph Hoffmann continued into a new generation of birders and that the torch of influence of Ralph Hoffmann lives on.
Wouldn't it be nice to bring Hoffmann's classic 1927 back in print again? As Peterson suggested, his own handbook could "be most effectively used as a companion piece" to Hoffmann's guide. And it would be nice for Hoffmann's classic to be in print for history, nostalgia, and for educators and scientists to utilized for some deep ecology in California. This brief biography and history article forms part of a larger study as a biography and history project into the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. And it is also a greater project that is being completed in conjunction with a comparative history of birding and floristic field work by Ralph Hoffmann in Berkshire County and Santa Barbara County. There are overtones for understanding environmental history and the history of natural history in Massachusetts and California. In a very real sense, it is an ambitious project of historical geography, the history of ecology, and biogeography of two microcosms in the United States.