In the news recently, there are two new Charles Darwin statues, and they both depict the young naturalist (yay!).
The Chicago Maroon: Dr. Watson welcomes Darwin statue
Galapagos Conservation: The Making of Darwin
Peter Dear, “Darwin’s Sleepwalkers: Naturalists, Nature, and the Practices of Classification” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 44:4 (Sept. 2014): 297-318.
Abstract Darwin used taxonomic arguments widely in his work on transformism and natural selection, especially in attempts to persuade other (typically non-transformist) naturalists of the correctness of his ideas in Origin of Species. But, as has long been noticed, classificatory practices in natural history were by no means turned on their head in the wake of his work. Darwin succeeded in coopting, or else leaving untouched, the taxonomic conclusions of his colleagues, because he needed to use their conclusions as evidence for his transformist views: time and again, he made points by referring to what a typical naturalists would make of things. By telling them that the kind of knowledge that their taxonomy produced was really about genealogical relationships, Darwin tried to tell naturalist that their judgments were correct even though they had not previously known why this was so: they were sleepwalkers, finding their way in the dark, and Darwin would illuminate them. His argumentative style continually attempted to draw existing practices of classification to his assistance, and made the judgments of his colleagues into surrogate phenomena that would provide evidence for his views. Those colleagues thus constituted a society that established nature by its own practices.
Aydin Örstan, “Two early nineteenth-century uses of the term “evolution” to denote biological speciation” Archives of Natural History 41:2 (Oct. 2014): 360-362.
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, “Charles Darwin” In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Ecology, 2014.
This is a monumental undertaking – a 24,000 word bibliography looking at Darwin and how he is studied from many angles.
Darwin aficionados have long wondered when the 1978 BBC television series The Voyage of Charles Darwin would be released on DVD. I had a post about this in 2009, here. Well, Simply Media is releasing it in the UK (Region 2) later this month: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Voyage-Of-Charles-Darwin/dp/B00MFWMPSG
Here’s hoping for a Region 1 release soon!
Diane Ackerman, The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014), 352 pp.
Publisher’s description: Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented reality that one prodigiously intelligent and meddlesome creature, Homo sapiens, is now the dominant force shaping the future of planet Earth.
Humans have “subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness.” We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction. Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a “frozen ark,” equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating—perhaps saving—our future and that of our fellow creatures.
A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.
Piers J. Hale, Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 464 pp.
Publisher’s description: Historians of science have long noted the influence of the nineteenth-century political economist Thomas Robert Malthus on Charles Darwin. In a bold move, Piers J. Hale contends that this focus on Malthus and his effect on Darwin’s evolutionary thought neglects a strong anti-Malthusian tradition in English intellectual life, one that not only predated the 1859 publication of the Origin of Species but also persisted throughout the Victorian period until World War I. Political Descent reveals that two evolutionary and political traditions developed in England in the wake of the 1832 Reform Act: one Malthusian, the other decidedly anti-Malthusian and owing much to the ideas of the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck. These two traditions, Hale shows, developed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation. Participants disagreed not only about evolutionary processes but also on broader questions regarding the kind of creature our evolution had made us and in what kind of society we ought therefore to live. Significantly, and in spite of Darwin’s acknowledgement that natural selection was “the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms,” both sides of the debate claimed to be the more correctly “Darwinian.” By exploring the full spectrum of scientific and political issues at stake, Political Descent offers a novel approach to the relationship between evolution and political thought in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
On his blog, also called Political Descent, Hale offers a more detailed summary of the book.
Ron Miksha, The Mountain Mystery (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014), 330 pp.
Publisher’s description: Fifty years ago, no one could explain mountains. Arguments about their origin were spirited, to say the least. Progressive scientists were ridiculed for their ideas. Most geologists thought the Earth was shrinking. Contracting like a hot ball of iron, shrinking and exposing ridges that became mountains. Others were quite sure the planet was expanding. Growth widened sea basins and raised mountains. There was yet another idea, the theory that the world’s crust was broken into big plates that jostled around, drifting until they collided and jarred mountains into existence. That idea was invariably dismissed as pseudo-science. Or “utter damned rot” as one prominent scientist said. But the doubtful theory of plate tectonics prevailed. Mountains, earthquakes, ancient ice ages, even veins of gold and fields of oil are now seen as the offspring of moving tectonic plates. Just half a century ago, most geologists sternly rejected the idea of drifting continents. But a few intrepid champions of plate tectonics dared to differ. The Mountain Mystery tells their story.
Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman, eds., Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 368pp.
Victorian Scientific Naturalism examines the secular creeds of the generation of intellectuals who, in the wake of The Origin of Species, wrested cultural authority from the old Anglican establishment while installing themselves as a new professional scientific elite. These scientific naturalists—led by biologists, physicists, and mathematicians such as William Kingdon Clifford, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Thomas Henry Huxley, and John Tyndall—sought to persuade both the state and the public that scientists, not theologians, should be granted cultural authority, since their expertise gave them special insight into society, politics, and even ethics.
In Victorian Scientific Naturalism, Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman bring together new essays by leading historians of science and literary critics that recall these scientific naturalists, in light of recent scholarship that has tended to sideline them, and that reevaluate their place in the broader landscape of nineteenth-century Britain. Ranging in topic from daring climbing expeditions in the Alps to the maintenance of aristocratic protocols of conduct at Kew Gardens, these essays offer a series of new perspectives on Victorian scientific naturalism—as well as its subsequent incarnations in the early twentieth century—that together provide an innovative understanding of the movement centering on the issues of community, identity, and continuity.
Summary of the editors’ introduction from James Ungureanu.