The Homer Tome

Homer Rushing, "The Gorilla Comes to Darwin's England," 1990. (25 MB PDF)

In 1990, one of my UT graduate students, Homer Rushing, completed a remarkable MA thesis, "The Gorilla Comes to Darwin's England." It ran to 668 pages spread across two volumes. Homer's thesis won our department's Perry Prize as the best thesis of the year, and virtually everyone who has read it has told me (and I certainly agree) that it was better than most doctoral dissertations. It is a really outstanding piece of work and deserves to be more widely available.

Homer was a retired Navy chief petty officer and very much his own man; my former colleague John Hughes, who helped supervise Homer while I was away in England on research leave for a year, used to say that Homer was "not a coachable athlete." Homer had his own vision of what his thesis ought to be and he carried it resolutely to completion, even as John and I told him that just two or three chapters (he eventually wrote twenty) of what we came to call "the Homer Tome" would easily suffice for an MA. But that wasn't for Homer; he wanted to do it up right, and he did. After he completed his MA, Homer entered our doctoral program, but some health problems led him to suspend any further graduate studies, and thereafter he devoted much of his time to serious birdwatching and photography. On several occasions I urged Homer to submit some part of his thesis for publication as an article or two, but he never got around to it, and then in 2012 he passed away at the age of 68. You can find a very brief obituary and a photo of Homer here. (Note that his UT MA was actually in History, not English Literature. And I wish the photo showed Homer smiling; that's how I always remember him.)

Over the years, with Homer's blessing, I had shared a few copies of his thesis with friends who took an interest in the subject—one went to Jim Paradis at MIT, another to Jim Secord at Cambridge, a third to Constance Clark at Worcester Polytechnic, and a fourth to Chris Heaney, now at Penn State. Through them, Homer's thesis garnered a number of citations in the history of science literature, including Greg Radick's remark in The Simian Tongue (2007) that it offers "the best general history of the 'gorilla war'" of the early 1860s, when accusations of fraud broke out amid controversies over the possible evolutionary relationship between apes and men. Encouraged in particular by Chris Heaney, I have now finally scanned Homer's thesis and posted it above as a PDF. Homer wanted his work to be shared with all who took an interest in the fascinating story of Paul du Chaillu and the "gorilla war," and he was happy to have it made freely available. I ask only that those who read or download his thesis credit him properly in any citations of it.

Homer Rushing, "The Gorilla Comes to Darwin's England: A History of the Impact of the Largest Anthropoid Ape on British Thinking from Its Rediscovery to the End of the Gorilla War, 1846–1863," M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1990.