Howard T. Odum: History and Legacy
By M.T. Brown, C.A.S. Hall, S.E. Jorgensen and other colleagues of HT’s
Edited and condensed by E. C. Odum
In this section we share the history and legacy of HT Odum. He is the virtual originator of the International Society for the Advancement of Emergy Research (the Emergy Society). He was an individual who had a larger than life presence and impact on so many of us. Howard T. Odum (or HT as he wished to be called) was a very special scientist and teacher who often walked alone but with several hundred of us following along behind as best we could. He left an incredible legacy: a massive set of ideas, theories, and teachings, as well as a suite of accomplishments that few can begin to approach in volume, let alone originality. His approach to science and teaching and his more than ethical conduct (which was probably the result of his upbringing ) provide us a standard to which we can aspire, even if they are most difficult to emulate.
Following his Doctorate from Yale in 1951, H.T. Odum’s 52-year academic career was punctuated by six moves that carried him from Yale to Florida, to North Carolina, to Texas, to Puerto Rico, back to North Carolina and finally back to Florida where in 1971 he settled down as Graduate Research Professor. With each move from one academic institution to another, the opportunities for research and teaching that presented themselves shaped his work and provided a rich and fertile ground for development of his theories and philosophies. He encountered new ecosystems and new environmental issues, at each new institution, to which he seemed infinitely adaptable. Even though the systems and issues were very different, his “top-down, systems approach” and his focus on the similarities of adaptation of ecosystems and components reduced their complexity to manageable dimensions. Through his energetics approach he found similar components and similar processes in all systems at all levels of organization.
H.T. Odum was the recipient of numerous awards:
- Phi Beta Kappa
- George Mercer Award, Ecological Society of America
- Prize Institute de la Vie, Paris 1976
- Distinguished Service, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
- Distinguished Service, American Institute of Biological Sciences
- The Crafoord Prize, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1987
- University of Florida Presidential Medal, 1976
- Distinguished Service, University of Puerto Rico
- Honorary Doctor of Science, Ohio State University, 1995
- Elected Member Swedish Royal Academy of Science
- Honorary Doctor of Science, University of Florida, 2003
Read more on the: Howard T. Odum Collection
H.T. Odum was an extraordinary individual. His love of teaching, his creative and imaginative way of viewing the biosphere, his grasp of so many different fields of science, and his drive and unbounded energy have left many students, colleagues, and associates awestruck. His unique way of understanding the biosphere and human’s place within it, his gift to us all, will endure and expand as it is more fully understood by this and succeeding generations. He has left us a legacy of many hundreds of books and scientific publications, over 100 masters and PhD students, and even a movie or two. But,far beyond these tangible remnants of his scientific inquiry is the devotion to his students, close associates, family and to human kind. In his own words (in the Prosperous Way Down Odum and Odum, 2001, the last book published while he was alive written with his wife Betty), “As sometimes attributed to past cultures, people may again find glory in being an agent of the earth.” H.T. Odum was an agent of the earth, striving always to teach good stewardship and a profound understanding and respect for the cycles, hierarchies and especially energetics of the biosphere.