CONFERENCE: Evolution and the Public

From the H-SCI-MED-TECH listserve:

Evolution and the Public (1859-2009) –
The discussion of a scientific idea and its ramifications since Charles
Darwin

University of Siegen, Artur-Woll-Haus
September 3-5, 2009
Deadline for Proposals: March 1, 2009

Please note: Contributions to this project may take on different forms
(see below).

When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution by means of
natural selection scientists and a wider public were well aware that
this concept was more than a scientific explanation for natural
phenomena. They already had a glimpse of what we today well know after a
hundred-and-fifty years of debate: The theory of evolution impinges upon
a great number of principle issues, be they theological, philosophical,
moral, social or political, in short, on the basics of human existence
and society. It holds the promise of a new freedom and new options while
at the same time unveiling new dangers hidden below the surface of
opportunities given to humanity to influence the evolutionary process.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century it is biotechnology and
genetic engineering which drives controversial debates most strongly.
The compatibility of religion and evolution, most pressing question when
the debate was initiated, is still a matter on which feelings run high.
When Darwin’s ideas were transplanted into other fields, people became
sensitized to new possibilities and new risks: for the individual, for
groups defined in social or national terms, for society in general.
Social Darwinism, eugenics and the power to affect creation in
particular fired and, in modernized form, still fire the imagination.
The conference will look at this multifaceted public debate as it was
conducted in the Western world (a focus will be on Europe and North
America), on various levels from academic circles to casual
conversations of ‘ordinary people’, in various media of popular or high
culture stance (literature in the broadest sense, the press, radio,
television, film, internet, museums etc.). In analyzing the debate on
evolution in the public it inquires after an evolution of the public, a
transformation it may have undergone in the process.
Themes of possible contributions should touch on the following
categories of topics, which will structure the conference as well as the
different forms in which its results will be published.
1. The emergence of a public debate
2. Evolution and religion — a controversy without end?
3. The public and the scientist: Images of scientists from Darwin to the
present
— Darwin in the eyes of contemporaries and subsequent generations
— Ingenious, mad, dangerous? Images of scientists in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries
4. From Darwinism to Social Darwinism
5. Eugenics in Europe and North America: Defining an ideal and the
attempts at implementing it
6. The debate on evolution in the age of the human genome:
biotechnology, genetics and man as lord of creation
7. Evolution of the public and the future of the debate.
Proposals for papers are invited from those working in history, history
of science and technology, natural sciences, social sciences,
philosophy, theology, art history, literary criticism, media studies or
related disciplines. Conference language will be English. Thanks to the
Fritz Thyssen Foundation travel funding is available for all speakers.
Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words in either English or
German together with a short CV before March 1, 2009 for consideration
to Angela Schwarz at evolution@geschichte.uni-siegen.de.
Since it is a public debate that is to be explored, the results shall be
made accessible to a wider public too. For this reason, conference
papers are supposed to deal with their specific aspects in such a way
that they cannot only be published in a collection in book format, but
will also serve as the background to a (sub-)section in a web-based,
long-term presentation of the debate on evolution (similar to a virtual
exhibition) to be created, organized and hosted at Siegen University
after the conference. Potential speakers are therefore kindly requested
to agree to a publication of their contributions in these two ways.
The way of contributing to the project may differ from the common way of
presenting a paper at a conference and publishing it afterwards in a
book. For we also welcome proposals from those interested in providing
input to the internet presentation only — without wishing to present a
paper at the conference or unable to attend it. If you have further
questions, please do not hesitate to contact the convener at the address
given below.

Convener
Angela Schwarz
Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Neueste Geschichte
Universitaet Siegen
evolution@geschichte.uni-siegen.de

– 
Prof. Dr. Angela Schwarz
FB 1 – Neuere und Neueste Geschichte
Universitaet Siegen
Adolf-Reichwein-Str. 2
57068 Siegen

Tel.:   0271 / 740 – 4606     0271 / 740 – 4502 (Sekretariat)
Fax:    0271 / 740 – 4596
Mail:   schwarz@geschichte.uni-siegen.de
http://www.fb1.uni-siegen.de/geschichte/mitarbeiter/schwarz/?lang=de

BOOK REVIEW: Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

I received this book from the publisher last year, so I am now finally able to put up my review. But I also had to read it for my current graduate class on historical writing, taught by Michael Reidy (my advisor and the author of the book!). And the review:

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy. By Michael S. Reidy. Chicago, London: Chicago University Press, 2008. xiv + 389 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $40.00 (cloth).

In an essay in William K. Story’s edited volume Scientific Aspects of European Expansion (Varorium, 1996), historian Alan Frost shows how science conducted in the Pacific during European exploration of the late eighteenth century was essentially political in nature. Scientists acted with their respective nations in mind. Michael S. Reidy extends the notion of science for political purposes into the nineteenth century with Tides of History. But while the book’s subtitle, Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy, underscores the connection between advancements in science and the imperial reach of maritime nations (predominantly Britain), Reidy aims for much more than just showing how the British used science to rule the waves. He has other interests in mind, and it is unfortunate that the title of his book misleads the reader of its primary content. Although Reidy does discuss the Admiralty and how tidal science was crucial to military matters, he is more interested in the scientist himself and his role – in particular one giant of science (William Whewell) and plenty of rather unknowns. Even larger still is Reidy’s contribution to a growing field of ocean history, a fresh understanding of history understood through looking at the spaces in between the land that most histories are focused with.

Much of Tides of History details the history of tidal science – of the data collection itself, and the theoretical understanding of the tides (whether or not it was based on data). The narrative of Reidy’s story, told through scientific publications, letters, and the use images (tables and graphs), almost mirrors the flux and reflux of the tides themselves, the ebb and flow of the seas across the globe. Tidal science, and the reasons for studying it, have shifted in importance to various parties through the centuries. Reidy outlines what has gone before, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before focusing on the nineteenth century, the highest period of Britain’s imperial expansion, and the regional and global tide experiments in the mid-1830s.

Reidy is fond of metaphors, and they abound in Tides of History. For example, Whewell “helped transform the spatial scope of science while simultaneously expanding the terrain of the scientist” (p. 240). This spatiality is important to Reidy in showing how Whewell transformed the study of tides into a Humboldtian research program, rather than the temporal nature of previous studies. In contrast to earlier and recent works on Whewell, Reidy shows how this evaluator of science in Britain was much more than just a man interested in the work of scientists, but a premier scientist himself. The study of tides, which held Whewell’s interest for more than two decades, also influenced Whewell’s philosophical contributions to science – how science should be done and who should do it. Despite Whewell’s insistence that only certain persons could be scientists – those who strived for theoretical understanding of phenomena – he recognized the efforts and contributions of the often overlooked figures in history. Data collectors, calculators, and computers, doing monotonous and tedious work with ink, provided crucial information for “scientists” to devise their theories with. By looking closely at the role of these “subordinate labourers,” as Whewell referred to them, Reidy gives us a much needed contribution to the history of science, a bottom-up history in a field which too often stresses the importance of the man of science. There were many men (and women) of science, whether or not they were considered “scientists.”

While Reidy succeeds in relating the study of the tides to those with economic interests in using that knowledge – merchants, traders, etc. – what is missing from Tides of History, despite its secondary role to an understanding of the emerging scientist in the early Victorian period, is how the military aspect of the study of the tides was actually used. Examples of how the Admiralty benefited from tidal knowledge, grounded in particular events (if records exist), would surely benefit an understanding of the importance of the study of the tides, and of the relationship of scientists with the larger society. Another mistake in Tides of History, in my opinion, is in the introduction of self-registering tide gauges in Reidy’s narrative. Through reading the text, we know that data collectors observed and marked down numbers concerning the tides. We do not know, however, if and how they utilized technological instruments in carrying out their tasks. So, the invention of the self-registering tide gauge, which made it possible to record data without the hand of a person, becomes not as exciting a turn in the narrative as if the reader truly understood how earlier “subordinated labourers” collected information about the rise and fall of tides.

Despite these few problems, Tides of History is a valuable contribution to understanding the culture of science in the early Victorian period, a time when the role of scientists was becoming more connected with commerce and government, in helping to ensure Britain’s imperialistic success and reaping rewards from it. Taken with Richard Drayton’s Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (Yale University Press, 2000), Tides of History offers a more complete picture of the relationship between science and society – of the political and economic importance of science and the increasingly important role of the scientist – in the nineteenth century. This is a valuable book for those interested in nineteenth-century science, the history of physical sciences, imperialism, environmental history, and maritime history to have on their shelves.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Harry Hammond Hess (Born 24 May 1906; died 25 Aug 1969). American geologist who made the first comprehensive attempt at explaining the phenomenon of seafloor spreading (1960). This revived Alfred Wegener’s earlier theory of continental drift. Together, these provided an interpretation of the earth’s crust in terms of plate tectonics. The surface of the globe is not continuous. Rather, it is broken into a number of huge plates that float on the molten rock under the crust, moved over eons of geologic time by convective currents driven by earth’s internal heat. With this motion these plates rub against, collide with, or separate from other plates. Thus the nature of earthquakes and volcanoes could be explained, plus the existence of ridges of young rock mapped around the globe under the ocean where the sea floor was spreading.

Ynes Mexia (Born 24 May 1870; died 12 Jul 1938). Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia was an American botanical collector, who developed her passion for botany and fieldwork in her 50’s, and yet was able to make about 150,000 collections in 12 years on seven expeditions. She was aged 55 when she made her first collecting trip. She accompanied Stanford’s Assistant Herbarium Curator, Roxanna Ferris, in Mexico. Her activity was remarkable, as she spent several years exploring for specimens in remote reaches of Central and South Americas. At age 59, she began a 2-1/2 year expedition in Peru and Brazil which included a three-month period trapped by floods with her team in a 600-m deep gorge which they escaped eventually by building a raft and running the river and its rapids.

Charles-Lucien Bonaparte (Born 24 May 1803; died 29 Jul 1857). (Prince) French zoologist who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. From 1822 to 1828, he was in the United States, where he wrote four volumes of American Ornithology (1825-33) adding to the body of work left unfinished by Alexander Wilson at his death. Bonaparte’s scientific reputation was established by these volumes, with which he had the assistance of the artist Titian Peale, who found and painted birds for him from the Rocky Mountains and Florida. In 1848-49, Bonaparte’s scientific career experienced a brief hiatus when he took part in the political agitation for Italian independence against the Austrians and he was forced to leave Italy in July 1849. He went to Holland and then to France.

William Whewell (Born 24 May 1794; died 6 Mar 1866). British scientist, best known for his survey of the scientific method and for creating scientific words. He founded mathematical crystallography and developed Mohr’s classification of minerals. He created the words scientist and physicist by analogy with the word artist. They soon replaced the older term natural philosopher. Other useful words were coined to help his friends: biometry for Lubbock; Eocine, Miocene and Pliocene for Lyell; and for Faraday, anode, cathode, diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ion (whence the sundry other particle names ending -ion). In metereology, Whewell devised a self-recording anemometer. He was second only to Newton for work on tidal theory. He died as a result of being thrown from his horse.

Graduate School in Bozeman, Montana

A few things to mention: 1) I was accepted into Montana State University’s graduate program in history; 2) we can most likely remain in our family housing apartment (I hate moving all the books!); and 3) for the first year of my graduate studies, I will be involved with my advisor on a funded project to transcribe the letters of the 19th-century Irish physicist John Tyndall, focusing, I believe, on letters dealing with his mountaineering endeavo[u]rs. Whether or not I will use the information gathered through reading so many letters to develop my thesis or write something entirely different, I am not sure. But Tyndall did touch on some biological topics later in his career. The project is spearheaded by historian of science Bernard Lightman (author of Victorian Science in Context [1997] and Victorian Popularizers of Science [2007], and editor of the journal Isis). From his “works in progress” on his homepage:

A biography of John Tyndall using the extensive unpublished correspondence from the Royal Institution and elsewhere, funded by a three-year SSHRC grant. Currently I am working with a team of graduate students to transcribe the letters.