BOOK: Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

… Darwin came to sexual selection not from his study of the sexual differences and mating behaviors or birds and other animals… but the other way around: from his very Victorian interpretation of the human practices of wife choice, courtship, and marriage, which he then extended to animals.

The word above come from the prologue of a new book I recently started reading, which should be titled The Big Book of Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection:

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Evelleen Richards, Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 672 pp.

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Publisher’s description Darwin’s concept of natural selection has been exhaustively studied, but his secondary evolutionary principle of sexual selection remains largely unexplored and misunderstood. Yet sexual selection was of great strategic importance to Darwin because it explained things that natural selection could not and offered a naturalistic, as opposed to divine, account of beauty and its perception.

Only now, with Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection, do we have a comprehensive and meticulously researched account of Darwin’s path to its formulation—one that shows the man, rather than the myth, and examines both the social and intellectual roots of Darwin’s theory. Drawing on the minutiae of his unpublished notes, annotations in his personal library, and his extensive correspondence, Evelleen Richards offers a richly detailed, multilayered history. Her fine-grained analysis comprehends the extraordinarily wide range of Darwin’s sources and disentangles the complexity of theory, practice, and analogy that went into the making of sexual selection. Richards deftly explores the narrative strands of this history and vividly brings to life the chief characters involved. A true milestone in the history of science, Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection illuminates the social and cultural contingencies of the shaping of an important—if controversial—biological concept that is back in play in current evolutionary theory.

Links: a review and interview from Times Higher Education; a review from the Guardian; a mention and article review (“Darwin and the Descent of Women,” 1983) from history of science doctoral student James Ungureanu; and a podcast of a 2016 lecture that Richards gave on her research (at this link, scroll down to find this particular one).

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BOOK: Darwin and Women: A Selection of Letters

The Darwin Correspondence Project has published their first book of letters resulting from one of their thematic research avenues, on Darwin and gender.

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Samantha Evans, ed. Darwin and Women: A Selection of Letters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 298 pp.

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Publisher’s description Darwin and Women focuses on Darwin’s correspondence with women and on the lives of the women he knew and wrote to. It includes a large number of hitherto unpublished letters between members of Darwin’s family and their friends that throw light on the lives of the women of his circle and their relationships, social and professional, with Darwin. The letters included are by turns entertaining, intriguing, and challenging, and are organised into thematic chapters, including botany and zoology as well as marriage and servants, that set them in an accessible narrative context. Darwin’s famous remarks on women’s intelligence in Descent of man provide a recurring motif, and are discussed in the foreword by Gillian Beer, and in the introduction. The immediacy and variety of these texts make this an entertaining read which will suggest avenues for further research to students.

BOOK: From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America

This new title from historian Kimberly A. Hamlin looks to be an important contribution to Darwin studies:

Kimberly A. Hamlin, From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 256 pp.

From Eve to Evolution provides the first full-length study of American women’s responses to evolutionary theory and illuminates the role science played in the nineteenth-century women’s rights movement. Kimberly A. Hamlin reveals how a number of nineteenth-century women, raised on the idea that Eve’s sin forever fixed women’s subordinate status, embraced Darwinian evolution—especially sexual selection theory as explained in The Descent of Man—as an alternative to the creation story in Genesis. Hamlin chronicles the lives and writings of the women who combined their enthusiasm for evolutionary science with their commitment to women’s rights, including Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Eliza Burt Gamble, Helen Hamilton Gardener, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These Darwinian feminists believed evolutionary science proved that women were not inferior to men, that it was natural for mothers to work outside the home, and that women should control reproduction. The practical applications of this evolutionary feminism came to fruition, Hamlin shows, in the early thinking and writing of the American birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Much scholarship has been dedicated to analyzing what Darwin and other male evolutionists had to say about women, but very little has been written regarding what women themselves had to say about evolution. From Eve to Evolution adds much-needed female voices to the vast literature on Darwin in America.

ARTICLE: Botanical Smuts and Hermaphrodites: Lydia Becker, Darwin’s Botany, and Education Reform

In the latest issue of Isis (June 2013):

Botanical Smuts and Hermaphrodites: Lydia Becker, Darwin’s Botany, and Education Reform

Tina Gianquitto

Abstract In 1868, Lydia Becker (1827–1890), the renowned Manchester suffragist, announced in a talk before the British Association for the Advancement of Science that the mind had no sex. A year later, she presented original botanical research at the BAAS, contending that a parasitic fungus forced normally single-sex female flowers of Lychnis diurna to develop stamens and become hermaphroditic. This essay uncovers the complex relationship between Lydia Becker’s botanical research and her stance on women’s rights by investigating how her interest in evolutionary theory, as well as her correspondence with Charles Darwin, critically informed her reform agendas by providing her with a new vocabulary for advocating for equality. One of the facts that Becker took away from her work on Lychnis was that even supposedly fixed, dichotomous categories such as biological sex became unfocused under the evolutionary lens. The details of evolutionary theory, from specific arguments on structural adaptations to more encompassing theories on heredity (i.e., pangenesis), informed Becker’s understanding of human physiology. At the same time, Becker’s belief in the fundamental equality of the sexes enabled her to perceive the distinction between inherent, biological differences and culturally contingent ones. She applied biological principles to social constructs as she asked: Do analogous evolutionary forces act on humans?

Some links…

Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs: Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Gishosaurs

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution wins the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize

VIDEO – The Poetry of Science: Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Sandwalk: Dispatches from the Evolution Wars

Sandwalk: The National Science Foundation Version of “Understanding Evolution”

Galapagos Live: Introducing Galapagos 2.0 & The Beagle Project Blog: In Galapagos!

The Red Notebook: People want to see the Beagle

Two interviews with Laelaps’ Brian Switek, author of the soon-to-be-released Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

Clips from the new documentary First Life from David Attenborough, plus:

History of geology: Dragons and Geology

BBC Audio Slideshow: Jurassic woman (Mary Anning)

History of Science Centre’s blog: A note on transactions and Ubi Crookes Ibi Lux

The Bubble Chamber: Can History and Philosophy of Science be Applied in Socially Relevant Ways? and Planet Earth through Disney’s Lens

From the Hands of Quacks: For the Maker of the Stars: The Cultural Reception of Print

Whewell’s Ghost: Mr. X

History of science blog: Evocative objects

Darwin and Gender: The Blog: The Reluctant Bride Groom?

Darwin Correspondence Project: Alison Pearn to discuss ‘Darwin’s Women’ at Wesleyan University

Charlie’s Playhouse blog: Irresistible contest entry

Natural History @ 100: The Smithsonian/Roosevelt African Expedition 1909-1910

Ptak Science Books: Phantom in the Opera: Questions about Darwin and Einstein and Music

Robert Kohler reviews Steven Shapin’s Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority for Science

Melanie Keene reviews Peter Bowler’s Science for All: The Popularization of Science in Early Twentieth-Century Britain in Centaurus