Visual representation in science is the study of how images can inform an understanding of scientific practice and the production and dissemination of knowledge. There will be at least two worskshops on this topic in the next year (here and here). The description of one describes images as “occupy[ing] a special place… for their power to encapsulate scientific knowledge, their capacity to communicate to various publics, and their flexibility in the production of meanings by the interaction of producers and users.” For this month’s edition of the history of science blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders and it’s theme of visuals and representations in science, I thought I’d share some information about Darwin and evolution in cartoons and caricatures.
Jonathan Smith looked at visual representation within Darwin’s various books in his 2006 book Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture) (you can read the first chapter as a pdf). One could look at Darwin portraiture and photography, maybe Janet Browne has, and how specific images have been used to push a particular way of looking at Darwin. The Darwin year saw many books looking at Darwin and his impact on art. Constance Clark’s 2001 article in The Journal of American History, “Evolution for John Doe: Pictures, the Public, and the Scopes Trial Debate,” is about the “role of visual images of evolutionary ideas published during the [Scopes]debate.” And Heather Brink-Roby’s article “Natural Representation: Diagram and Text in Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species,” in Victorian Studies, looks at how Darwin used diagram and text “not simply to argue for, but also as evidence of, his theory.” Also, analyses of the March of Progress imagery of evolution and other representations (like trees of life) would fit into visual representations (see here and here, and of course Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, specifically chapter 1, “Iconography of an Expectation”).
Where do political cartoons and caricatures fit into this? Surely, such images were avenues of knowledge for the public, and how a cartoon represented Darwin or evolution (anti-evolution, pro-evolution, etc.) had an impact on the viewer, and evolution was used as a means to comment on society and culture or whatever was in the news. I know of at least two historians of science who have published on the topic:
Browne, Janet. “Darwin in Caricature: A Study in the Popularisation and Dissemination of Evolution.”Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145:4 (December 2001): 496-509. (also, see my post 19th-Century Caricature Prints with Tyndall, Darwin caricatures at The Primate Diaries, and Darwin caricatures at Genomicron)
Davis, Edward B. “Fundamentalist Cartoons, Modern Pamphlets, and the Religious Image of Science in the Scopes Era.” In Religion and the Culture of Print in Modern America, edited by Charles Lloyd Cohen and Paul S. Boyer, 175-98. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.
Davis presented at the History of Science Society meeting in 2009 on “Demonizing Evolution,” sharing some of the fundamentalist cartoons. Since Google Books won’t let me see the cartoons in the article, I’m not sure if those in his talk are the same as those in his article, but I will share a few from his talk:
These cartoons in the era of the Scopes trial present evolution as: dangerous to one’s faith (learning about and accepting evolution will creep into one’s religious life), “modern” education is cheating on God and the Bible; evolution is anti-religion; evolution is sacred and religious itself; the theory of evolution is collapsing, full of speculation and not fact-based. Much of these claims are still used today, by many creationists and intelligent design proponents who spend more time trying to discredit evolution than convincing us that their view is scientific. Such cartoons and anti-evolution pamphlets, according to Davis, “provide new insights into the intense debate about the meaning of science and the nature of religion that took place among American Protestants in the 1920s. From popular publications such as these, we see just how the fundamentalists and the modernists both attempted to influence public opnion about the religious image of science in the decade of the Scopes trial” (193).
There is a wonderful resource for political cartoons that do the opposite of demonizing evolution. Historian of science Joe Cain has brought to our attention the ephemeral journal Evolution: A Journal of Nature, which ran from 1927 through 1938, 21 issue in all, and he provides a publication history for it in a 2003 article for Archives of Natural History. Evolution was “a monthly platform for pro-evolutionist perspectives and as a device for rebutting anti-evolutionists. It also aimed to bolster the resolve of teachers caught in the centre of curriculum debates.” Its purpose was laid out in the first issue: “This magazine will help bridge that gap by furnishing a forum in which science itself can speak in popular language without fear of the restraints with which fundamentalists are seeking to shackle them.” Among the articles within Evolution were scores of political cartoons. Cain has made all the issues available (also available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library) and a page with some of the cartoons. Here are a few:
Unfortunately, Evolution was not a great success (hence, only 21 issues). By its 12th issue, the journal touted its 5,000 subscribers, and provided a list of how many by state. Interestingly, it had the most subscribers in New York City (675), California (551), New York State (494), Illinois (486), and Ohio (299). A few others in the 100-200 range (including Pennsylvania), and the rest under 100, including all states in the South.
I will also point out another website, put togteher by Mark Aldrich, called Cartooning Evolution, 1861-1925, broken up into Darwin and Evolution, Evolution as Social Comment, Victorian Science, Fundamentalist Publications, The Scopes Trial: Northern Newspapers, The Scopes Trial: National Magazines, and The Scopes Trial: Southern Newspapers. Here’s a sampling, but be sure to check out the website itself, there are many more. Enjoy: