John W. Hessler, FRGS

Theoretical Biogeographer, GIS Scientist, and Professor in Baltimore, MD

John W. Hessler, FRGS

Theoretical Biogeographer, GIS Scientist, and Professor in Baltimore, MD

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When not climbing in the Alps or mountain biking through some jungle, I am a specialist in Computational Geography & Geographic Information Science (GIS) at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, I am also a lecturer in biogeography and bioarchaeology in the Odyssey Program and at the Osher Institute, at Johns Hopkins University.

Over the past few years I have lectured about or taught classes in Evolutionary Game Theory; Entropy, Information Theory & Mapping Biodiversity; and GIS for Biogeographic Applications. I am currently teaching the seminar, Archaeology and the Science of Climate Change.

I am the founder of the λ-LAB for Bioinformatics & Biogeography, where our recent projects have included studying the phylodynamics of SARS-CoV-2, mapping the geospatial and phylogenetic variation of Rhinolophus bats—thought to be the hosts of SARS-CoV-2, and surveying the mutations in the Omicron variant.

The lab’s current theoretical research centers on the use of information theory and entropy measures to study the evolution and geospatial variation of biodiversity and of viral mutations.

Formerly of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, my field biogeographical research has focused on the ethnobotany of the Cahuilla, in the deserts of southwestern California & Joshua Tree National Park. For the last few years I have also been making my way through the massive botanical data on the Cahuilla collected by John Peabody Harrington.

The author of more than one hundred articles and books, including the New York Times bestseller, MAP: Exploring the World, my work has been featured in many media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, the BBC, CBS News and NPR’s All Things Considered.

My most recent book, Collecting for a New World, examines the history of the archaeological collections at the Library of Congress, where I also write the Excavating Archaeology blog series for Worlds Revealed. My forthcoming book, Exposing the Maya: Early Archaeological Photographers in the Americas will be published in Summer, 2022.

An avid mountaineer, I am a frequent contributor to Alpinist Magazine, writing about climate change & the history of mountaineering.

I find pondering the philosophical depths of the species question, wondering about the biological mysteries contained in ancient DNA, and marveling at the complexity to be found in Darwin’s tangled bank, strangely comforting.