VIDEO: Alfred Russel Wallace conference at the Linnean Society, 7 Nov. 2019

Video courtesy the Linnean Society; conference information here.

Thanks to The Alfred Russel Wallace Website for bringing this to our attention.

BOOK: Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America

A recently published book of possible interest to followers here is Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America by Erika Milam (Princeton University Press, 2019):

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Publisher’s description After World War II, the question of how to define a universal human nature took on new urgency. Creatures of Cain charts the rise and precipitous fall in Cold War America of a theory that attributed man’s evolutionary success to his unique capacity for murder. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials and in-depth interviews, Erika Lorraine Milam reveals how the scientists who advanced this “killer ape” theory capitalized on an expanding postwar market in intellectual paperbacks and widespread faith in the power of science to solve humanity’s problems, even to answer the most fundamental questions of human identity. The killer ape theory spread quickly from colloquial science publications to late-night television, classrooms, political debates, and Hollywood films. Behind the scenes, however, scientists were sharply divided, their disagreements centering squarely on questions of race and gender. Then, in the 1970s, the theory unraveled altogether when primatologists discovered that chimpanzees also kill members of their own species. While the discovery brought an end to definitions of human exceptionalism delineated by violence, Milam shows how some evolutionists began to argue for a shared chimpanzee-human history of aggression even as other scientists discredited such theories as sloppy popularizations. A wide-ranging account of a compelling episode in American science, Creatures of Cain argues that the legacy of the killer ape persists today in the conviction that science can resolve the essential dilemmas of human nature.

Milam was interviewed about her research on the podcast Time to Eat the Dogs, and she wrote an essay for Aeon based on her book.

[Amazon|Powell’s|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound]

New book provides wide overview of the history of natural history

Worlds of Natural History

On the left you have the 1996 volume Cultures of Natural History (edited by N. Jardine, J.A. Secord, and E.C. Spary), a well-respected overview of the history of natural history. Almost a quarter century later, Cambridge University Press has published a follow up volume, while adding a fourth editor: Worlds of Natural History on the right. I found the first volume very useful when an undergraduate student in history, and likewise from a perusal of the table of contents of the new volume will find much to enjoy and use. The press has made available for free PDFs of nine chapters from Cultures and two from Worlds. Click here for these downloads!

Here’s the publisher information for the new volume:

H.A. Curry, N. Jardine, J.A. Secord, and E.C. Spary, eds., Worlds of Natural History (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 682 pp.

Description From Aztec accounts of hibernating hummingbirds to contemporary television spectaculars, human encounters with nature have long sparked wonder, curiosity and delight. Written by leading scholars, this richly illustrated volume offers a lively introduction to the history of natural history, from the sixteenth century to the present day. Covering an extraordinary range of topics, from curiosity cabinets and travelling menageries to modern seed banks and radio-tracked wildlife, this volume draws together the work of historians of science, of environment and of art, museum curators and literary scholars. The essays are framed by an introduction charting recent trends in the field and an epilogue outlining the prospects for the future. Accessible to newcomers and established specialists alike, Worlds of Natural History provides a much-needed perspective on current discussions of biodiversity and an enticing overview of an increasingly vital aspect of human history.

 

New graphic novels about Humboldt’s and Darwin’s travels

Humboldt & Darwin graphic novels

Two recent books take the world travels of two of the most important figures in the history of science and digest them into readable and visually appealing formats. As graphic novels, these books have the potential to reach audiences who would not necessarily pick up Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of America: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World or Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle.

Andrea Wulf and Lilian Melcher (illustrator), The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt (Pantheon, 2019), 272 pp. [Amazon|Powell’s|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound]

Publisher’s description Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, but his most revolutionary idea was a radical vision of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. His theories and ideas were profoundly influenced by a five-year exploration of South America. Now Andrea Wulf partners with artist Lillian Melcher to bring this daring expedition to life, complete with excerpts from Humboldt’s own diaries, atlases, and publications. She gives us an intimate portrait of the man who predicted human-induced climate change, fashioned poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and influenced iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, and John Muir. This gorgeous account of the expedition not only shows how Humboldt honed his groundbreaking understanding of the natural world but also illuminates the man and his passions.

Links: reviews from Nature, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus; an animation for the book; story on Science Friday (and excerpt)

Fabien Grolleau and Jérémie Royer (illustrator), Darwin: An Exceptional Voyage (Nobrow, 2019), 184 pp. [Amazon|Powell’s|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound]

Publisher’s description This sweeping, intelligent and immersive biographical graphic novel from award-winning creators, joins legendary scientist Charles Darwin as a young man, as he embarks on his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. ~ It is the year 1831. A gifted but distracted young man named Charles Darwin has been offered a place aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, in a chain of events that will change both his life and the course of modern science. Join him on an epic journey of thrilling discovery as he explores remote corners of the natural world and pieces together the very beginnings of his revolutionary theory of evolution.

Links: review from Multiversity Comics; excerpt from The Comics Journal

ARTICLES: Evolution and Film Censorship, was Huxley “Darwin’s Bulldog”?, and the Struggle for Coexistence

Here are a few items of possible interest to readers here:

In Osiris:

Darwin on the Cutting-Room Floor: Evolution, Religion, and Film Censorship

David A. Kirby

Abstract In the mid-twentieth century, film studios sent their screenplays to the Hays Office, Hollywood’s official censorship body, and to the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency for approval and recommendations for revision. This essay examines how filmmakers crafted stories involving evolutionary biology and how religiously motivated movie censorship groups modified these cinematic narratives in order to depict what they considered to be more appropriate visions of humanity’s origins. I find that censorship groups were concerned about the perceived impact of science fiction cinema on the public’s belief systems and on the wider cultural meanings of evolution. By controlling the stories told about evolution in science fiction cinema, censorship organizations believed that they could regulate the broader cultural meanings of evolution itself. But this is not a straightforward story of “science” versus “religion.” There were significant differences among these groups as to how to censor evolution, as well as changes in their attitudes toward evolutionary content over time. As a result, I show how censorship groups adopted diverse perspectives, depending on their perception of what constituted a morally appropriate science fiction story about evolution.

In The Linnean (PDF here):

Why there was no ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’: Thomas Henry Huxley’s Famous Nickname

John van Wyhe

Summary “It is true that Huxley was widely known as a defiant defender of Darwinism. But imagining that he was widely acknowledged as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ obscures some of the historical reality, such as the fact that he had his own (non-Darwinian) ideas about evolution and was long tentative about the efficacy of natural selection. Appreciating that he was not known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ should lead to a more nuanced recognition of who he was and what he really did. If one of the most widely known, enjoyed and unquestioned nicknames in the history of science is incorrect, what other undisputed facts might also be wrong?”

And a PhD dissertation (PDF here):

The Struggle for Coexistence: Peter Kropotkin and the Social Ecology of Science in Russia, Europe, and England, 1859-1922

Eric Michael Johnson

Summary This dissertation follows the history and intellectual development of Peter Kropotkin whose scientific theory of mutual aid showed how Darwinian evolution could explain cooperation and the origin of morality. By following his journey from prince to naturalist to political radical, it reveals that Kropotkin was part of a transnational network of scientific and political thinkers whose perspective can be defined as Socialist Darwinism. Those figures that would later be defined as representing Social Darwinism originated in their opposition to Socialist Darwinism and through an ongoing debate with them. This demonstrates that political and scientific ideas about evolutionary change were influenced by each other in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

 

ARTICLE: Why there was no ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’: Thomas Henry Huxley’s Famous Nickname

New from The Linnean (April 2019):

Why there was no ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’: Thomas Henry Huxley’s Famous Nickname

John van Wyhe

[No abstract, but here’s a very short description from the author: “TH Huxley was not known as Darwin’s bulldog during the 19th century as thousands of books, articles, websites etc. have been saying for almost a hundred years.”]

Here’s a PDF of the article! And as someone has already asked me, does this mean I must change my Twitter handle?