ARTICLE: What Darwin Disturbed

In the latest issue of Isis:

What Darwin Disturbed: The Biology That Might Have Been
Peter J. Bowler

ABSTRACT The launch of a revolutionary new scientific theory represents a rare occasion on which the apparently cumulative development of science might be influenced by particular events. Yet in the case of the Darwinian revolution it is often claimed that the theory of evolution by natural selection would have emerged more or less inevitably, given the scientific and cultural circumstances prevailing in mid-Victorian Britain. This essay challenges that claim by arguing that if Darwin had not been there to write his Origin of Species the subsequent development of biology would have occurred along a line that steadily diverged from the sequence of events we actually experienced. There would certainly have been an evolutionary movement in the late nineteenth century, but there would have been no selection theory to disturb the progressionist assumptions of the time. A totally non-Darwinian evolutionism might not have generated the challenges that led to the emergence of modern genetics in the early twentieth century, resulting in a very different understanding of the relationship between development, heredity, and environment.

Top museum perpetuates Dawin myth

Keep that in mind
Originally uploaded by Arsie Says

After reading John van Wyhe’s piece for the Guardian about Darwin myths earlier this year, in particular the often quoted phrase about species, I thought I would share this. The brand spanking new facility for the California Academy of Sciences just opened, and I came across this photo of that phrase – “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change” – cemented on the floor of some part of the museum.

M.J.S. Hodge on Darwin – 2 new books

Before and After Darwin: Origins, Species, Cosmogonies, and Ontologies (2008) by M.J.S. Hodge, University of Leeds, UK :

This is the first of a pair of volumes by Jonathan Hodge, collecting all his most innovative, revisionist and influential papers on Charles Darwin and on the longer run of theories about origins and species from ancient times to the present. The focus in this volume is on the diversity of theories among such pre-Darwinian authors as Lamarck and Whewell, and on developments in the theory of natural selection since Darwin.

Plato’s Timaeus, the Biblical Genesis and any current textbook of evolutionary biology are all, it may well seem, on this same enduring topic: origins and species. However, even among classical authors, there were fundamental disagreements: the ontology and cosmogony of the Greek atomists were deeply opposed to Plato’s; and, in the millennia since, the ontological and cosmogonical contexts for theories about origins and species have never settled into any unifying consensus. While the structure of Darwinian theory may be today broadly what it was in Darwin’s own argumentation, controversy continues over the old issues about order, chance, necessity and purpose in the living world and the wider universe as a whole.

The historical and philosophical papers collected in this volume, and in the companion volume devoted to Darwin’s theorising, seek to clarify the major continuities and discontinuities in the long run of thinking about origins and species.

Contents: Introduction; The Very Long Run: Origins and species before and after Darwin; Canguilhem and the history of biology. Cosmogonies and Ontologies After Buffon: 2 Cosmologies (theory of the Earth and theory of generation) and the unity of Buffon’s thought; Lamarck’s science of living bodies; Lamarck’s great change of mind; The history of the Earth, life and Man: Whewell and palaetiological science; The universal gestation of nature: Chamber’s Vestiges and Explanations. The Structure and Content of Darwinian Theory Since Darwin: The structure and strategy of Darwin’s ‘long argument’; Darwin’s theory and Darwin’s argument; Discussion: Darwin’s argument in the Origin; Knowing about evolution: Darwin and his theory of natural selection; Generation and the Origin of Species (1837-1937): a historiographical suggestion; Biology and philosophy (including ideology): a study of Fisher and Wright; Natural selection as a causal, empirical and probabilistic theory; Index.

Darwin Studies: A Theorist and his Theories in their Contexts (2008) by M.J.S. Hodge, University of Leeds, UK:

This is a second of a pair of volumes by Jonathan Hodge, collecting all his most innovative, revisionist and influential papers on Charles Darwin and on the longer run of theories about origins and species from ancient times to the present. The focus here is on Darwin himself and the construction of his theories, seeing how the precise details of his inquiries are integrated with those larger scientific, metaphysical, religious and political issues that a young, ambitious ‘philosopher’ and ‘naturalist’ was then expected to engage. This contextual understanding can then allow us to reinterpret his relations to such longer-run legacies as Christian Platonism, Enlightenment materialism and British capitalism.

The Darwin Legend

A new Darwin website: The Darwin Legend, by Hiram Caton, which “explores Charles Darwin’s legacy in the run up to the Darwin 200 bicentennial celebrations, Darwin 2009.” I haven’t had much time to look through it, though. I think Caton emailed me an article he did about the Darwin exhibit back when I first started this blog, but I can’t seem to find the email anymore.

Latest Issue of Isis

Here is the table of contents for the latest issue of the history of science journal Isis (June 2008):

vi Frontispiece Citation

239 After the Double Helix By Angela N. H. Creager and Gregory J. Morgan Abstract

273 Cowboys, Scientists, and Fossils By Jeremy Vetter Abstract

304 Proteus Rebound By Peter Pesic Abstract

318 What Difference Does History of Science Make, Anyway? By Jane Maienschein and George Smith Abstract

322 Does Science Education Need the History of Science? By Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky Abstract

331 Taxonomy and Why History of Science Matters for Science By Andrew Hamilton and Quentin D. Wheeler Abstract

341 How Can History of Science Matter to Scientists? By Jane Maienschein, Manfred Laubichler, and Andrea Loettgers Abstract

350 Science in the Everyday World By Katherine Pandora and Karen A. Rader Abstract

365 History of Science and American Science Policy By Zuoyue Wang and Naomi Oreskes Abstract

Go here to see letters to the editor & book reviews. Will Thomas of the history of science blog Ether Wave Propaganda has been posting his response to some of the articles in this issue:

“What is the value of the history of science?” > Historians, what are they good for?
“Does Science Education Need the History of Science?” > History and Science Education
“Taxonomy and Why History of Science Matters for Science: A Case Study” > History as Font of Lessons
“How Can History of Science Matter to Scientists?” > Historians as Methodologists
“Science in the Everyday World: Why Perspectives from the History of Science Matter” > Historians as Mediators
“History of Science and American Science Policy” > History in Perspective

Celebrating the Theory of Natural Selection, Recognizing Darwin AND Wallace

I tried to get this up on July 1st, but the time just wasn’t there…

Although most people think of the Darwin celebrations as the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12, 2009) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (November 24, 2009), July 1st, 2008 is another reason to reflect on not only Darwin by Alfred Russel Wallace’s life and work. It is the 150th anniversary of the reading of papers by Darwin and Wallace before the Linnean Society, announcing the theory of natural selection. Neither Darwin nor Wallace were in attendance, and the papers were presented by Joseph Dalton Hooker and Charles Lyell. The papers apparently did not cause a stir among members of the Linnean, or did they? (see the myth section at George Beccaloni’s Wallace website).

A slew of blogs and articles about this moment in the history of science graced the internet on or around July 1st:

Beagle Project Blog: This week 150 years ago…, A guest post by Wallace’s Rottweiler on the 150th anniversary of natural selection (emphasize’s Wallace, response from NeuroDojo) and Breaking cover and breaking ground
The Red Notebook: Darwin goes public
Natural History Museum (London): Happy birthday natural selection
NPR: Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution — Or Wallace’s? (with David Quammen, response from Knight Science Journalism)
Telegraph: Martin Rees, Royal Society: why we should celebrate Charles Darwin
Guardian: Survival of the wisest
Observer: How Darwin won the evolution race (response from The Tree of Life and Mystery of Mysteries)
New York Times: Darwinmania!; Pharyngula: Get ready to party like it’s 1859
Sydney Morning Herald: In Australia, on a wilderness path to a theory
The Age: Highly evolved: how Darwin has survived the test of time
Nature: The other beetle-hunter (responses from the blog Literature: A discussion of ID-related reading: Charles Darwin – Icon of Evolution, from the non-ID blog Bug Girl’s Blog, and from George Beccaloni – see 6 July 2008 on his Wallace website)
The Austringer: A Sesquicentennial: Wallace and Darwin at the Linnean Society
Thoughts in a Haystack: 150 Years Ago and Another Milestone
A Snail’s Eye View: July 1858
Pharyngula: Fire the starting gun! The Darwin year begins…NOW!
Evolving Thoughts: On the “Darwin Year” (is Darwin the single most important figure in the history of biology?)
Laelaps: Darwin overload?, 150 years ago today (on others who thought of natural selection) and More Wallace and Darwin
Mystery of Mysteries: On Darwin and Wallace, Again, The Linnean Society, Wallace Defends Darwin’s Priority – 1908, Part I, and Wallace Examines Roots – 1908, Part II
Greg Laden’s Blog: Happy Birthday Natural Selection. You had mondo relative fitness as an idea!
The Loom: Scared? Nah, just busy (on Darwin taking 20 years to publish)
A Blog Around the Clock: Happy 150th Birthday to the Principle of Natural Selection! and Natural Selection anniversary podcast (sharing this Takeaway podcast)
The Sensuous Curmudgeon: First of July: Natural Selection’s Birthday
Houston 2009 Darwin Blog: July 1, 1858
Living the Scientific Life: Natural Selection Turns 150 Years Old Today
Professor Olsen @ Large: July 1, 1858 (a Thursday)
Coffee and Sci(ence): Natural Selection
Advances in the History of Psychology: 150 Years Since Natural Selection First Presented
Nobel Intent: Happy evolution! The theory’s 150th anniversary
Genomicron: It was 150 years ago today…
The Evolution List: Day One of the Evolution Revolution (with some links)
Berto: Philosophy Monkey: Darwin’s Legacy
Mobile Science: The Revolution begins! (er, began…) July 1, 1858: Darwin and Wallace Shift the Paradigm
A Dark and Sinister Force for Good: On the Origin of the Feces
The National: It’s a big year for Charles Darwin

Other recent pieces on Darwin:

Guardian: Writers’ rooms: Charles Darwin
A blog from Cambridge University Press, This Side of the Pond, has started Darwin Letter Friday: Charles Darwin was a typical teenager and Darwin on the Isle of Wight
Newsweek: Who Was More Important: Darwin or Lincoln? (responses from Sandwalk, Richard, and Pharyngula, and Laelaps) Dawkins on Darwin
BBC: Welshman who helped Darwin evolve
Maritime Compass: LII and Darwin
Telegraph: Charles Darwin was not the father of atheism; Charles Darwin’s blog: I am not the father of atheism
Telegraph: Charles Darwin’s garden: where evolution evolved
Telegraph: Charles Darwin: ‘Is man an ape or an angel?’ (response from
Smithsonian: On the Origin of a Theory (response from
Sandwalk: Darwinism at the ROM
Laelaps: A brief recommendation (of Darwin biographies)
Science Watch (podcast): “Bringing Darwin to Life with Brian ‘Fox’ Ellis.”
Two forthcoming natural history History books: Voyages of Discovery: A Visual Celebration of Ten of the Greatest Natural History Expeditions and Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species

Recent & Forthcoming Darwin Books

Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution by Adrian Desmond and James Moore:

Mining untapped sources, the authors of an acclaimed biography of Darwin offer an astonishing new portrait of the scientific icon. In Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James Moore restore the missing moral core of Darwin’s evolutionary universe, providing a completely new account of how he came to his shattering theories about human origins. Desmond and Moore’s biography of Darwin was described by Stephen Jay Gould as “unquestionably the finest . . . ever written” about him. In their new book, timed to coincide with the worldwide Darwin bicentenary celebrations, Desmond and Moore provide a major reexamination of Darwin’s life and work. Drawing on a wealth of fresh manuscripts, unpublished letters, notebooks, diaries, and ships’ logs, they argue that the driving force behind Darwin’s theory of evolution was not simply his love of truth or personal ambition—it was his fierce hatred of slavery. Darwin’s abolitionism had deep roots in his mother’s family, and it was reinforced by his voyage on the Beagle as well as by events in America—from the Civil War to the arrival of scientific racism at Harvard. Compulsively readable and utterly persuasive, Darwin’s Sacred Cause will revolutionize our view of the great scientist.

Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace by Charles H. Smith and George Beccaloni:

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 – 1913) was one of the late nineteenth century’s most potent intellectual forces. His link to Darwin as co-discoverer of the principle of natural selection alone would have secured him a place in history, but he went on to complete work entitling him to recognition as the ‘father’ of modern biogeographical studies, as a pioneer in the field of astrobiology, and as an important contributor to subjects as far-ranging as glaciology, land reform, anthropology and ethnography, and epidemiology. Beyond this, many are coming to regard Wallace as the pre-eminent field biologist, collector, and naturalist of tropical regions. Add to that the fact that he was a vocal supporter of spiritualism, socialism, and the rights of the ordinary person, and it quickly becomes apparent that Wallace was a man of extraordinary breadth of attention. Yet his work in many of these areas is still not well known, and still less recognized is his relevance to current day research almost 100 years after his death. This rich collection of writings by more than twenty historians and scientists reviews and reflects on the work that made Wallace a famous man in his own time, and a figure of extraordinary influence and continuing interest today.

Charles Darwin’s Shorter Publications, 1829-1883 by John van Wyhe:

Charles Darwin’s words first appeared in print as a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1829, and in almost every subsequent year of his life he published essays, articles, letters to editors, or other brief works. These shorter publications contain a wealth of valuable material. They represent an important part of the Darwin visible to the Victorian public, alongside his ever present sense of humour, and reveal an even wider variety of his scientific interests and abilities, which continued to his final days. This book brings together all known shorter publications and printed items Darwin wrote during his lifetime, including his first and his last publications, and the first publication, with A. R. Wallace, of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. With over seventy newly discovered items, the book is fully edited and annotated, and contains original illustrations and a comprehensive bibliography. [Publisher]

Charles Darwin: The Beagle Letters by Frederick Burkhardt:

Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle is a gripping adventure story, and a turning point in the making of the modern world. Brought together here in chronological order, the letters he wrote and received during his trip provide a first-hand account of a voyage of discovery that was as much personal as intellectual. We follow Darwin’s adventures as he prepares for his travels, lands on his first tropical island, watches an earthquake level a city, and learns how to catch ostriches from a running horse. We witness slavery, political revolution, and epidemic disease, and share the otherworldly experience of landing on the Galapagos Islands and collecting specimens. His letters are counterpoised by replies from family and friends that record a comfortable, intimate world back in England. Original watercolors by the ship’s artist Conrad Martens vividly bring to life Darwin’s descriptions of his travels. This fascinating collection of letters written and received by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the HMS Beagle provides a first-hand account of a voyage of discovery that was as much personal as intellectual. Original watercolours by the ship’s artist Conrad Martens vividly bring to life Darwin’s descriptions.

Voyage of the Beagle: Darwin’s Extraordinary Adventure Aboard Fitzroy’s Famous Survey Ship by James Taylor:

The bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his ground-breaking publication On the Origin of Species will be celebrated throughout the world in 2009 with major exhibitions and a major motion picture about his life. Author James Taylor commemorates the anniversaries with a book that takes the title of one of Darwin’s great works to present an updated and comprehensively illustrated version of the travels of the Beagle. He includes a full history of the storied vessel and the complete plans and designs of the ship, along with biographies of Darwin and Capt. Robert Fitzroy, paintings, portraits, caricatures, photographs, artifacts, and journal extracts. In compiling this extraordinary wealth of materials, Taylor has woven together all strands of the Beagle story to produce a thoroughly engaging and highly informative book.

Darwin Studies: A Theorist and His Theories in Their Contexts by M.J.S. Hodge:

I couldn’t find any information on this one…

Angels and Ages: Lincoln, Darwin, and the Making of the Modern Age by Adam Gopnik:

I couldn’t find any information on this one…

H.G. Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism: A Study in Translation and Transformation by Sander Gliboff:

The German translation of Darwin’s The Origin of Species appeared in 1860, just months after the original, thanks to Heinrich Georg Bronn, a distinguished German paleontologist whose work in some ways paralleled Darwin’s. Bronn’s version of the book (with his own notes and commentary appended) did much to determine how Darwin’s theory was understood and applied by German biologists, for the translation process involved more than the mere substitution of German words for English. In this book, Sander Gliboff tells the story of how The Origin of Species came to be translated into German, how it served Bronn’s purposes as well as Darwin’s, and how it challenged German scholars to think in new ways about morphology, systematics, paleontology, and other biological disciplines. Gliboff traces Bronn’s influence on German Darwinism through the early career of Ernst Haeckel, Darwin’s most famous nineteenth-century proponent and popularizer in Germany, who learned his Darwinism from the Bronn translation. Gliboff argues, contrary to most interpretations, that the German authors were not attempting to “tame” Darwin or assimilate him to outmoded systems of romantic Naturphilosophie. Rather, Bronn and Haeckel were participants in Darwin’s project of revolutionizing biology. We should not, Gliboff cautions, read pre-Darwinian meanings into Bronn’s and Haeckel’s Darwinian words. Gliboff describes interpretive problems faced by Bronn and Haeckel that range from the verbal (how to express Darwin’s ideas in the existing German technical vocabulary) to the conceptual. One of these conceptual problems, the origins of novel variation and the proper balance between creativity and constraint in evolution, emerges as crucial. Specialists in evolutionary biology today, Gliboff points out, continue to grapple with comparable questions–continuing a larger process of translation and interpretation of Darwin’s work.

Darwin’s Luck by Patrick H. Armstrong:

I couldn’t find any information on this one…

What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer:

I couldn’t find any information on this one…

Darwin: For the Love of Science by Andrew Kelly et al.:

I couldn’t find any information on this one…

Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life by Warren D. Allmon:

Considered by many during his lifetime as the most well-known scientist in the world, Stephen Jay Gould left an enormous and influential body of work. A Harvard professor of paleontology, evolutionary biology, and the history of science, Gould provided major insights into our understanding of the history of life. He helped to reinvigorate paleontology, launch macroevolution on a new course, and provide a context in which the biological developmental stages of an organism’s embryonic growth could be integrated into an understanding of evolution. This book is a set of reflections on the many areas of Gould’s intellectual life by the people who knew and understood him best: former students and prominent close collaborators. Mostly a critical assessment of his legacy, the chapters are not technical contributions but rather offer a combination of intellectual bibliography, personal memoir, and reflection on Gould’s diverse scientific achievements. The work includes the most complete bibliography of his writings to date and offers a multi-dimensional view of Gould’s life-work not to be found in any other volume.

Evolution: The First Four Billion Years by Edward O. Wilson (Foreword), Michael Ruse (Editor), and Joseph Travis (Editor):

Spanning evolutionary science from its inception to its latest findings, from discoveries and data to philosophy and history, this book is the most complete, authoritative, and inviting one-volume introduction to evolutionary biology available. Clear, informative, and comprehensive in scope, Evolution opens with a series of major essays dealing with the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology, with major empirical and theoretical questions in the science, from speciation to adaptation, from paleontology to evolutionary development (evo devo), and concluding with essays on the social and political significance of evolutionary biology today.

A second encyclopedic section travels the spectrum of topics in evolution with concise, informative, and accessible entries on individuals from ­Aristotle and Linneaus to Louis Leakey and Jean Lamarck; from T. H. Huxley and E. O. Wilson to Joseph Felsenstein and Motoo Kimura; and on subjects from altruism and amphibians to evolutionary psychology and Piltdown Man to the Scopes trial and social Darwinism. Readers will find the latest word on the history and philosophy of evolution, the nuances of the science itself, and the intricate interplay among evolutionary study, religion, philosophy, and ­society.

Appearing at the beginning of the Darwin Year of 2009—the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species—this volume is a fitting tribute to the science Darwin set in motion.

Charles Darwin by Bill Price:

A Pocket Essential.

Mr Darwin’s Incredible Shrinking World: Science and Technology in 1859 by Peter Macinnis:

Read about it here.

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer:

Young Charley Darwin hated school—he much preferred to be outside studying birds’ eggs, feathers, and insects. And so, at the age of twenty-one, he boarded a ship called HMS Beagle and spent five thrilling but dangerous years sailing around the world, studying plant and animal life that was beyond anything he could have imagined. Here, just in time for Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking On the Origin of Species, historical novelist Carolyn Meyer tells the story of his unconventional adventures. It’s the story of a restless childhood, unrequited teenage love, and a passion for studying nature that was so great, Darwin would sacrifice everything to pursue it. [Publisher]

Charles Darwin by Alan Gibbons and Leo Brown:

Ten-year-old Henry has just gotten the job of his life—assistant to Charles Darwin on a voyage of the HMS Beagle. He will help Darwin collect all the creatures that fly, scuttle, and leap on this expedition to faraway lands. Little does he know that it will be one of the greatest scientific expeditions of all time! As the trip gets under way, Henry records everything he sees and does in his diary, providing readers with a firsthand account of the famous adventure. Fictionally told but based on facts, Charles Darwin puts an innovative spin on the story and accomplishments of the most famous naturalist in history, just in time for Darwin’s 200th birthday.

Creation and Evolution: A Conference With Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo (Hardcover)by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (Foreword), S.D.S. Stephan Horn (Editor):

This book documents the proceedings of the remarkable conference on the topic of “Creation and Evolution” hosted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. It includes papers that were presented from the fields of natural science, philosophy and theology, and records the subsequent discussion, in which Pope Benedict XVI himself participated.

Darwin and the Naked Lady: Discursive Essays on Biology and Art by Alex Comfort:

Must be a reissue.

Theological and Scientific Commentary on Darwin’s Origin of Species by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett:

Read about it here.

Copernicus, Darwin, Freud: Revolutions in the History and Philosophy of Science by Friedel Weinert:

Scientific ideas change the way we think about the world and our place in it. Nicolaus Copernicus developed a heliocentric view of the cosmos that displaced humans from the physical center of the universe. Charles Darwin developed an evolutionary theory that placed humans firmly within the organismic order of nature. It was Sigmund Freud who saw himself as completing this cycle of disparagement by destroying the belief that humans were ‘masters in their own house’.
Copernicus, Darwin and Freud: Revolutions in the History and Philosophy of Science deals with issues in the area of intersection between history and philosophy of natural and social science. Using Copernicanism, Darwinism and Freudianism as extended case studies, Friedel Weinert illustrates the profound connections between science and philosophy and shows how scientific theories invariably have philosophical consequences. Philosophical controversies surrounding ideas of human nature, realism and instrumentalism, models and theories, laws of nature and scientific method are all examined within the context of concrete problem situations in the history of science. Copernicus, Darwin and Freud is an engaging and versatile text suitable for a variety of courses in the history and philosophy of science or for individual study.

Darwin: A Guide for the Perplexed by Thomas Weber:

I couldn’t find any information on this one…

Batu-Angas: Envisioning Nature with Alfred Russel Wallace by Anne Cluysenaar:

This assortment of poems draws inspiration from the discoveries of 19th-century British scientist Alfred Russel Wallace—known for his explorations of the Amazonian rainforest, the Malay archipelago, and closely associated with Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. This collection traces Wallace’s travels and expeditions, recalling the scientist’s first impressions of exotic flora and fauna recalled in his journals and includes illustrations and photographs of specimens collected by Wallace during his journeys.

PREVIOUSLY: Recent & Forthcoming Darwin Books (May 21, 2008)

Smithsonian Magazine: On the Origin of a Theory

Richard Conniff, who wrote of Buffon in Natural History at the end of 2006, now writes about work that led to Darwin’s own theory of evolution and the publication of On the Origin of Species in the June issue of Smithsonian:

We call it Darwinism, for short. But in truth, it didn’t start with Darwin, or with Wallace either, for that matter. Great ideas seldom arise in the romantic way we like to imagine—the bolt from the blue, the lone genius running through the streets crying, “Eureka!” Like evolution itself, science more often advances by small steps, with different lines converging on the same solution.
Wallace seems to have felt no twinge of envy or possessiveness about the idea that would bring Darwin such renown. Alfred Russel Wallace had made the postman knock, and that was apparently enough.

Read the article here.

Darwin Podcast from the Royal Society

Find it here:

Whose Darwin is the true Darwin?

Battles over Charles Darwin’s legacy and the implications of his theory are central to current debates on evolution. Darwin’s extensive correspondence shows, as nothing else can, how he arrived at his published views. Here, two Darwin experts [Paul White & Alison Pearn [she’s not in the podcast, actually] from the Darwin Correspondence Project] talk about their current work on Darwin and evolution.

Direct mp3 here. I have yet to listen to it, but please do comment on it if you have…

UPDATE: There is also a video of the slideshow for the lecture, worth watching for the clips of the play Re:Design toward the end. Download by clicking here.

Dispersal Event 2008-05-06

First & foremost: Happy Belated Birthday! to Thomas Henry Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” born May 4, 1825. More from Palaeoblog and Prof. Olsen and especially Brian at Laelaps. From Today in Science History:

English biologist who made his reputation as a marine biologist while a ship’s surgeon. Later he turned to the study of fossils, especially of fishes and reptiles. He is best known as the main advocate of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1860, one year after The Origin of Species was published, Huxley debated with the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, at the British Association for the Advancement of Science. During the discussion Wilberforce asked whether he traced his ancestry to the apes. Huxley’s withering reply was that given the choice of a miserable ape and a man who could make such a remark at a serious scientific gathering, he would select the ape. Huxley coined the word agnostic to describe his own beliefs.

Website for Stony Brook University’s Darwin 2009 meeting.

Nature Network interviews Karen James of The HMS Beagle Project.

Darwin’s embryo drawings flawed? at Playing Chess with Pigeons.

First, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland assigned Quammen’s The Reluctant Mr. Darwin for its Common Reading Program (for all incoming students), and now the University of Pennsylvania has selected Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish for their 2008-2009 Reading Project for new students. What a way to start off your time in college, by reading books that make sense. (May 3, 2008): Historian links Darwinian theory with artist [A New Zealand historian claims that writings by British artist Augustus Earle may have contributed to Darwin’s “theory of evolution]; also from The Sydney Morning Herald and Scoop, and John has thoughts at Evolving Thoughts

The complete text of Robert M. Young’s Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture is online on his wesbite.

Systematics and Biogeography (blog): The Enduring Legacy of Misinterpreting Darwin [on Kevin Padian’s article in Nature earlier this year]

Toronto Star (May 4, 2008): Explore nature, as Darwin did

A website for the Darwin exhibit in Brazil, and a brief mention of it at Blog de Arara.

Forthcoming book: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

A film review from the H-SCI-MED-TECH listserve for Proteus: A Nineteenth-Century Vision, about Ernst Haeckel and his radiolarian work.

First Expelled, now this: Challenging Darwin in 2009 from Creation Ministries International [Hat-tip to the commenter on this post, and John has thoughts at Thoughts in a Haystack].

An image of Darwin as Hitler and Wallace as Mussolini. The page is in German, so I don’t know if it supporting the Expelled-endorsed view of the Darwin-Hitler pseudo-link, or if it’s just a joke – the atheist, Dawkins, and evowiki links in the sidebar lead me to think it’s a joke…

Will Thomas of Ether Wave Propaganda looks forward to the latest issue of Isis.

CFP: Darwin’s Reach Conference

From NCSE:

Call for Papers: Darwin’s Reach

The Darwin’s Reach conference will examine the impact of Darwin and Darwinian evolution on science and society in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin and the sesquicentennial of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The central theme of this academic conference is an exploration of how Darwin’s ideas have revolutionized our understanding of both the living world and human nature. Papers exploring diverse topics on Darwin’s legacy are invited from a wide variety of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, humanities, and law.

Topics of interest include but are not limited to Darwin as a scientist, the reception and development of Darwinian evolution in the 19th and 20th centuries, Darwinian evolution in the 21st century, misapplications of Darwinism, evolution in the courts, evolution in art and culture, evolution and religion, evolution and morality, evolution and sex/gender, evolution and medicine, evolution and language, evolution and socialization, and evolution and global climate change. Keynote speakers include Frans de Waal, Judge John E. Jones III, Jay Labov, and William F. McComas.

The conference will take place March 12-14, 2009, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and is sponsored by Hostra University Library, Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Hofstra Cultural Center. Presentations will be accepted on the basis of 200-word abstracts submitted by June 16, 2008. Presentation time for papers is limited to 20 minutes. Notification of acceptance will be sent by June 30, 2008. Further details are available at the Darwin’s Reach website.

A Darwinocentric View of the History of Biology?

In reponse to Kevin Padian’s article in Nature, “Darwin’s Enduring Legacy” (see here and here), George W. Beccaloni & Vincent S. Smith from the Natural History Museum in London write in the latest Nature:

This lack of interest in the 2008 anniversary [of the pre-publication reading on 1 July 1858 of Darwin and Wallace’s seminal papers on natural selection before the Linnean Society] is indicative of how Wallace’s achievements have been overshadowed by Darwin’s since Wallace’s death in 1913, a process certainly not helped by the Darwin ‘industry’ of recent decades. During his lifetime, Wallace received plenty of recognition from his contemporaries for his part in the discovery, as indicated by the many honours bestowed on him. These include the Darwin–Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals (Linnean Society); the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals (Royal Society); and the Order of Merit. Isn’t it perhaps time for the current darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised?

Perhaps I should consider renaming my blog to The Dispersal of Darwin and Wallace… Any thoughts?

And why is it The Beagle Project and not The Helen Project? Karen James informs (from ’07 here, 3rd post down).

New York Times (January 8, 2008): Wallace Should Hang
The Questionable Authority (blog): Happy Birthday, Alfred Russel Wallace

CFP (Belated): Darwin Industries, Inc.: Getting in Gear for 2009

From the University of Aarhus, Denmark website:

In 2009 Charles Darwin will be celebrated around the world for his 200th birthday 12 February and the 150th anniversary for the publication of On the Origin of Species. Already preparations are in full swing at schools, universities, museums, production companies and publishing houses. The internet is buzzing with excitement and antievolutionists are preparing for a counter strike. But where does that leave historians of science? What is our role? What can we do? How do we contribute to the Darwin anniversaries? Should we just submit ourselves to the Darwin craze in a wild hagiographical Victorian party? Or is this a privileged occasion for us to communicate the lessons of contemporary history of science and interact with a wider audience? Is this time for reflection or time for action? You decide! Come to Aarhus in February 2008 and let us talk about it – seriously.

A PDF of the program with abstracts of the papers is available here.

NOTE: This conference was organized by historian and organizer of Darwin in Denmark, Peter C. Kjærgaard, and it’s secretary was a recent graduate student, Jakob Bek-Thomsen, whom I received a nice email from back in September:

Dear Michael, I stumbled upon your blog while surfing – what great work you do there! I have been part of the Danish subproject of Darwin online and it’s so great to see that people take notice in the enormous work John has done in Cambridge. If you want to take a look at the danish site go to: It’s in danish though, and you should be warned that we’re doing some heavy reconstruction during september so you might experience some server downtime and bad graphics. Keep up the good work!

All best, Jakob

Four Books Forthcoming from The Darwin Correspondence Project

From The Darwin Correspondence Project (rss feed):

The Darwin Correspondence Project has four books due to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2008.
Two volumes of selected letters are due to appear in April 2008. Origins covers Darwin’s early career and the years leading up to the publication of Origin of Species. It also contains recently discovered letters written by Darwin as a schoolboy of twelve. Evolution covers the period from 1859 to 1870, the eve of publication of Descent of Man. It contains a foreword by Sir David Attenborough.
The Beagle letters, containing Darwin’s complete correspondence on his famous voyage around the world, will appear later this year. The volume is lavishly illustrated and includes an introduction by Janet Browne, extensive scholarly notes, and appendices.
Volume 16 of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin will be published later this year. This is the largest in the series so far, containing over 650 letters that Darwin exchanged in 1868, and will be issued as a pair of hardback volumes.

CFP: 150 Years of Evolution – Darwin’s Impact on the Humanities and Social Sciences

From H-Net:

Researchers and scholars from all disciplines are invited to submit papers addressing the impact of Darwin’s ideas in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Both disciplinary-specific and broadly interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged. Papers accepted for the symposium will be included in a volume to be published by San Diego State University Press.

Please submit abstracts of no more that 500 words in length to no later than 30 November 2008.

Accepted papers must be completed by the date of the symposium to be included in the published proceedings. Accepted papers will be announced 1 February 2009.

Mark Wheeler, Symposium Chair
Department of Philosophy
San Diego State University
(619) 594 – 6706

Just a few links…

To be out in June (according to Amazon), a volume of Darwin’s letters on evolution, with an introduction by David Attenborough. I like the cover.

A summary of E.O. Wilson’s Linnean Enterprise lecture. Also from the Linnean Society, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Darwin and Wallace’s 1848 joint publication.

“The Linnaean Tradition in Modern Biology – A Revival?” (conference last October) at Agora (Wilson also gave his speech here, and there is a PDF of his powerpoint.)

A summary of John van Whye’s forthcoming piece on the myth of Darwin’s finches. interview with David Quammen.

Wallace Should Hang from The New York Times.

Another History of Science Podcast

Yesterday I posted links for some history of science podcasts. I forgot one.

If science is neither cookery, nor angelic virtuosity, then what is it? Modern societies have tended to take science for granted as a way of knowing, ordering and controlling the world. Everything was subject to science, but science itself largely escaped scrutiny. This situation has changed dramatically in recent years. Historians, sociologists, philosophers and sometimes scientists themselves have begun to ask fundamental questions about how the institution of science is structured and how it knows what it knows. David Cayley talks to some of the leading lights of this new field of study.

JOURNAL: Spontaneous Generations

This is a new open access journal for the history of science:

Spontaneous Generations is a new online academic journal published by graduate students at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto. The journal aims to establish a platform for interdisciplinary discussion and debate about issues that concern the community of scholars in HPS and related fields. Apart from selecting peer reviewed articles, the journal encourages a direct dialogue among academics by means of short editorials and focused discussion papers which highlight central questions, new developments, and controversial matters affecting HPS.

Posts about its first issue are at Biomedicine on Display and the H-Sci-Med-Tech listserve. Here is the table of contents for Vol. 1, No. 1:

We Cannot Allow a Wikipedia Gap!
Abstract PDF
Sage Rogers Ross

On the Ethics of Medical Care under Resource Constraints
Abstract PDF
Joseph Agassi

Focused Discussion
Scientific Expertise: Epistemological Worries, Political Dilemmas (Focused Discussion Editor’s Introduction)
Boaz Miller

Expertise, Skepticism and Cynicism: Lessons from Science & Technology Studies
Abstract PDF
Michael Lynch

Science Democratised = Expertise Decommissioned
Abstract PDF
Steve Fuller

Political Epistemology, Experts, and the Aggregation of Knowledge
Abstract PDF
Stephen Turner

Wild or Farmed? Seeking Effective Science in a Controversial Environment
Abstract PDF
Stephen Bocking

Experts, Evidence, and Epistemic Independence
Abstract PDF
Ben Almassi

Managing Public Expectations of Technological Systems: A Case Study of a Problematic Government Project
Abstract PDF
Aaron K Martin, Edgar A Whitley,

Anatomical Expertise and the Hermaphroditic Body
Abstract PDF
Palmira Fontes da Costa

The Expert Professor: C.R. Young and the Toronto Building Code
Abstract PDF
James Hull

An Engineer’s View of an Ideal Society: The Economic Reforms of C.H. Douglas, 1916-1920
Abstract PDF
Janet Martin-Nielsen

Mothers, Babies, and the Colonial State: The Introduction of Maternal and Infant Welfare Services in Nigeria, 1925-1945
Abstract PDF
Deanne van Tol

What Trust in Science? Review of the Trust in Science Workshop
Boaz Miller

Starving the Theological Cuckoo: Review of John Leslie. Infinite Minds: A Philosophical Cosmology
Huw Price

Ruth Rogaski. Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China
Howard Hsueh-Hao Chiang

Geoffrey C. Bowker. Memory Practices in the Sciences
Sara Scharf

Ann Oakley. Experiments in Knowing: Gender and Method in the Social Sciences
Stephen Wallace

Book Review: Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750

Wonders and the Order of Nature is more than just a collection of stories about marvels. As a cornucopia of contexts, this book provides a wealth of social, cultural, religious, and political forces behind the history of wonders and the history of the emotion of wonder itself. In several ways, however, Daston and Park offer some broader themes. In their sweep through six centuries (from the High Middle Ages through the enlightenment), they show how the passions of wonder and curiosity have defined what objects were worthy of study and collection (and use) by European elites, be they courtly princes, natural philosophers, medical men, or theologians. Within those definitions emerge a multitude of boundaries – natural/unnatural, domestic/exotic, learned/lay (cultivated/vulgar), particulars/universals, theology/secularism, natural/artificial, empiricism and reason/ignorance, common/rare, physical experience/text experience, utility/futility, and ordinary/extraordinary – that help to understand how European elites viewed wonders and connected them to their lives.

Always with a dictionary at-hand, I found this book difficult at times to grasp a larger picture and yet redeemed as the authors summarized the main themes in each chapter. Chapter 1 places wonders geographically (or more exactly topographically), where marvels were “compiled, collated, analyzed, and multiplied.”[1] Most important here is the boundary between the domestic and the exotic. Marvels were found on the margins of Europe, to the east in Asia and Africa, and to the west in, at one time, Ireland, and later in the sixteenth century, the New World of North and South America. Recalling Pliny, the English monk Hidgen said “Nature plays with greater freedom secretly at the edges of the world than she does openly and nearer us in the middle of it.”[2] How geography defined marvels said something about the society of those experiencing the marvel. Marvels on the margins reflected Nature acting against her own laws, while marvels (of a different sort) that appeared within European society were considered horrors, signs of sin from the people. Those marvels on the margins were often exotic races such as the Cyclops (part of the natural order), while marvels at home were singularities: a monstrous birth, a comet, or blood-rain (ruptures of the moral order). While horrific marvels at home caused fear, exotic marvels, since they were not local, were viewed with tolerance. Part of this tolerance emerged from a view of relativity. Earlier readers of texts about monsters thought the exotic races barbarous and threatening. Medieval readers, however, saw exotic races through the eyes of those exotic races; they were no longer perceived negatively. Despite this new perspective, Europeans still expressed their superiority over exotic races.

While some viewed the marvels of the East as pleasurable (and non-threatening), Augustine placed them in a theological context. Representing the omnipotence of God, marvels should evoke religious awe. An Augustinian practice – by fellows like Bartholomaeus, Thomas, and Vincent – was to pore over catalogues of marvels and “bring out the moral sense.”[3] “He told of wonders,” a Christian author wrote about Pliny, “and I speak of morals.”[4] According to Daston and Park, the principal difference between singularities (prodigies) and marvelous (exotic) species “lay in their signification rather than their form.”[5] If a marvel were on the boundaries, then they represented symbols of the “power and wisdom of their Creator” or “figures of some higher theological or moral truth;” if they were found within society, then they acted as signs of God’s pleasure or displeasure “with particular situations or actions,”[6] and required immediate documentation because they “engag[ed] immediate human interests.”[7] Another aspect of the exotic versus domestic nature of marvels I found interesting is that travel writers relied on eyewitness experience in their accounts of visits to the east because “they needed to present their narratives as both literally and morally true.”[8]

In the next chapter, Daston and Park discuss wonders as physical objects and commodities of material culture rather than how they were significant to their observers or fit into literary culture as textual objects. As physical objects, wonders represented the wealth, power, and cultivation of those who owned them, and thus emerges the objects’ association with courts and nobility. The medieval collection was not a museum, for objects were not “prized for cognitive or philosophical reasons,” but rather a collection of treasures as a “repository of economic and spiritual capital.”[9] Daston and Park describe medieval collections as having “little resemblance to early modern or modern museums” and that they “functioned as repositories of wealth and of magical and symbolic power rather than microcosms, sites of study, or places where the wonders of art and nature were displayed for the enjoyment of their proprietors and the edification of scholars and amateurs.”[10] I somewhat disagree with this statement, for some modern museums were created and continued to represent the power and wealth of their donors or proprietors, and were intended for use by the wealthy and upper class citizens of society. Although offering their collections to public institutions, museum historian Marjorie Schwarzer notes that some self-made tycoons of the early twentieth century in America “expressed power through acquisition.”[11] Isabella Stewart Gardner named her art museum after herself and gained a “great increase in social stature.”[12] Thus, some modern museums retained symbolic expressions of wealth and power (but probably not magic), not only by what they collected but also how they displayed their objects. Almost the entire collection of museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was on display, a symbol of the institutions extent of acquisitions.

Although accessible to European elites, medieval collections were essentially off limits to laymen. It seems that by restricting access to treasures, the wonder they elicited from laymen was not only enforced, as Daston and Park note, but in some manner even constructed by those keeping them restricted. “[T]he wonders of the Crista were not generally available for popular contemplation,” and “ordinary laymen had to wait for one of the special festivals when the treasure was exhibited to the avid multitude, resulting in intense and sometimes rowdy scenes.”[13] Had these wonders of spiritual and economic capital been open to the masses more regularly, would they have elicited the same wonder and caused the same rowdy scenes? Chapter Two closes with a discussion of wonder at court. Daston and Park show how collections of marvels held social, economic, and political means for princes and dukes. Whether to impress court visitors, as symbols of Eastern conquest, or as symbols of wealth and power, courtly princes made “repeated and specific use of the marvelous as an elaborate system of emblems and signs to dramatize both their particular historical situation and their political aims.”[14]

Chapter Three looks beyond the role that wonders played for courtly princes and theologians of the Middle Ages to the place they held for natural philosophers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. According to Daston and Park, natural philosophers generally rejected wonders as worthy of inquiry not only because of their rarity but because of their unknown causal mechanisms. They viewed them as irrelevant to their work and as being outside or beyond the course of nature. Despite Aristotle’s claim that wonder, as ignorance of the causes of natural phenomena, and the study of particular natural phenomena created inquiry to search for those causes, Latin natural philosophers used Aristotle’s emphasis on causal mechanisms as the basis for their dispelling of wonders. In order to make sense of the natural order, these natural philosophers did not study particulars – individual marvels – but instead sought to understand natural variability through “elaborating general statements about the causes of certain types of phenomena.”[15] They studied universal principles rather than particular phenomena, and instead of observing natural phenomena, the natural philosopher’s task was “to refine and distill the universal truths he found in books and received from his teachers.”[16] Thus, the work of Latin natural philosophers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries did not rely on direct experience.

From Thomas Aquinas we get three types of physical occurrences. Wonders and the Order of Nature is not concerned with the supernatural (miracles), but with both the natural (naturalia) and the preternatural (mirabilia, marvels, wonders, you name it). There were problems with distinguishing between these three realms, but for the most part wonders and the passion of wonder associated with those wonders belonged to the preternatural. “Because wonder was associated with the ignorance of causes,” write Daston and Park, “it was a peculiarly unsuitable passion for one whose entire discipline was organized around the causal knowledge of nature.”[17] In their attempt to “make wonders cease,” natural philosophers in the fourteenth century posited explanations by natural causes without seriously invoking divine or demonic intervention. Moreover, they claimed that particular wonders, as objects which had to be experienced to be known, could not become part of natural philosophy.

Daston and Park move to Latin medical writers in their fourth chapter. Working for princely patrons who admired wonder and wonders, medical writers thus viewed wonders with attraction rather than the distaste of Latin natural philosophers. Because these physicians, involved in elite medical practice, “began to explore the therapeutic powers of particular marvels,” wonder and wonders emerged as part of natural philosophy, and, Daston and Park write, “lay at the heart of much philosophical writing” by the middle of the sixteenth century.[18] That particular phenomena became important as objects of philosophical reflection and wonder itself was reclaimed as a philosophical emotion led to a new philosophy, preternatural philosophy, which was concerned with adding personal experience of wonders to previous textual evidence, and used wonder as a tool for philosophical inquiry. Objects used by physicians and collected by apothecaries were not only wonders, but most were also exotic, associating them with elite practice. The marvels that poured out of the New World in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries provided much new natural material for study, especially for medicines, and reformed the ways in which “nature herself might best be explored.”[19]

The practice of collecting natural objects for their own sake, and not as objects that were collected by courtly princes, followed from global explorations. These collections helped to add practical use to the Greek and Roman texts on medicine and natural works. They also were places for research and tools in “professional and social self-fashioning.”[20] Like the collections of princes, however, marvelous natural history collections also transferred “the emotion of wonder from the objects themselves to their erudite and discriminating owner.”[21] Sixteenth-century collectors preferred particulars rather than universals, and thus sought specific explanations for individual phenomena. Ficino went beyond this and sought “overarching, speculative, and synthetic accounts of nature.” Daston and Park describe Ficino’s work as “a view of nature and natural philosophy that emphasized the power of human knowledge to transform the material world.”[22] The emotion of wonder as used by sixteenth-century collectors was now “passed through a professional lens.” A philosophical elite knew which phenomena were worthy of his attention, for this wonder was “a finely graduated register of response that only the best-informed and the most philosophically sophisticated could deploy.”[23] A new age of wonder emerged in both natural philosophy and the literature and art of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

As the centerpiece of Wonders and the Order of Nature, Chapter Five is a retelling of Daston and Park’s original work that ultimately led to this book.[24] In their 1981 article on monsters, they provided a chronological account of the views of monsters held in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – horror giving way to pleasure giving way to repugnance. They have changed their approach for this book, and now claim that chronology is ambiguous, for the ways in which people perceived monstrous births – horror, pleasure, and repugnance – occurred simultaneously and were not demarcated in time. Monsters could evoke horror or terror as signs of divine wrath signaling collective sin, pleasure as sports of a benign nature and ornaments of a benevolent creator, or repugnance based on anatomical, theological, or aesthetic grounds. As prodigies, monsters were ruptures in the physical order. As sports, they were objects of spectacle – such as a means for parents to make money – not just for princes and medical men but for laymen at marketplaces and fairs or expressions of “nature’s creative variety.”[25] As errors, or objects of repugnance, monsters “violated the standards of regularity and decorum not only in nature, but also in society and the arts.”[26]

Chapter Six discusses how marvels became part of natural philosophy in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientific academies, such as the Royal Society of London and the Paris Académie Royale des Sciences. Naturalists in these circles weighed the credibility of marvelous reports and looked at “problems of evidence, explanation, and experience” in their study of nature in these centuries.[27] They devised new ways of understanding their roles as inquirers into the natural world. They were “the curious,” a combination of “a thirst to know with an appetite for wonders,”[28] and their discipline was “a slow and meticulous exercise in self-restraint,” a “discipline for the mind.”[29] They sought to understand the particularity of phenomena and through this, understand the normal, by looking at facts rather than explanations or theories. It became important to verify facts, to determine whether or not marvelous reports were sound or invented. Part of this verification was probably social, for a “delicate economy of civility governed the reporting on wonders.”[30] As gentlemen and members of scientific circles, it proved difficult to contradict their testimony of marvels.

Wunderkammern – cabinets of curiosity – are the subject of the seventh chapter. In opposition themselves with the Aristotelian opposition between art and nature, Wunderkammern displayed artificialia alongside naturalia, juxtaposing in collections, even in single objects, nature’s elegant economy with the extravagance in expenditure of labor and materials. “Nature does nothing in vain,” while art is “careless of function” and prone to useless ornamentation.[31] In some sense, combining art and nature in a single object, like the ornamented nautilus shell created by Bartel Jamnitzer of Nuremberg (p. 279), not only contrasts nature with art, but also juxtaposes nature with man’s ability to control and manipulate nature (in the form of mining the metals used in art). For the owners of Wunderkammern, they held “hidden assumptions and aims,”[32] and mainly served to show off the prince’s magnificence to visitors (usually of a political nature), or in the case of scholars and physicians, to “stupefy visitors with wonder” culminated from learning rather than wealth.[33] Objects also showed how art imitated nature, such as trompe l’oeil paintings and casts from nature, or how nature imitated art, as in swirls of marble resembling clouds and figured stones. These imitations garnered wonder rather than the objects themselves. The contrast of art and nature in Wunderkammern also pointed to questions of nature and theology: was nature art, or artisan? If nature produces art, then what does that say about God’s sovereignty? According to Boyle, God did not need nature as an assistant. To Enlightenment naturalists and collectors, “[n]ature had become ‘the Art of God,’ no longer able to create art on her own.”[34]

Chapter Eight discusses the shifting relationships of wonder and curiosity as emotions, at times aligned and at other times opposed. The final chapter is about how wonder and wonders were no longer important to European intellectuals, and how marvels waned from prominence, although not completely disappearing. Very quickly Daston and Park counter the argument that “the new science” of the seventeenth century dismissed marvels by means of objective and rational explanations. Instead, Enlightenment intellectuals ignored marvels on metaphysical, aesthetic, and political grounds. Daston and Park argue that it was “neither rationality nor science nor even secularization that buried the wondrous for European elites,” and that “Enlightenment savants did not embark on anything like a thorough program to test empirically the strange facts collected so assiduously by their seventeenth-century predecessors or to offer natural explanations for them.”[35] A broad theme emerges in the last paragraph of this chapter. Daston and Park write that for all participants involved in the emotion of wonder and experienced wondrous objects from the twelfth through eighteenth centuries, “the natural order was also a moral order in the broad and somewhat old fashioned sense of moral as all that pertains to the human, from the political to the aesthetic. Hence the aberrations of nature were always charged with moral meaning.”[36]

If we look back through the examples offered by Daston and Park, we begin to see this theme of wonder and wonders fashioning the self: topographically, the occurrence of wonders in the European center spoke of sin, while the knowledge of wonders at the margins testified to European dominance, and therefore superiority, of the East; courtly princes used their collections of exotica and other wonders to impress others with their power and wealth, as well as create wonders of themselves, such as Philip the Good of Burgundy as “a new Alexander;” natural philosophers rejected wonder because it stood for one’s ignorance of causes, and thus defined their intellectual status; early natural history collections were involved with “professional and social self-fashioning”[37] and represented the ability of their physician/naturalist owners to know what was or was not worthy of wonder, making wondrous the wealth and power of their philosophical intellect (a philosophical elite); for those studying “strange facts” through scientific societies, natural history was a “discipline for the mind, a slow and meticulous exercise in self-restraint,”[38] a practice only a select group could be involved with – to be a naturalist within scientific societies was often to be a gentlemen, one with indispensable time and hardly concerned with daily life and trivial matters; Wunderkammern symbolized the magnificence and taste of their princely owners or the ostentatious intellect of their scholarly owners, with objects juxtaposing art and nature representing Europe’s technological and intellectual status; and for the philosophers in the first half of the eighteenth century who sought to remove the “fear of divine wrath and wonder of divine intervention” from marvels, the vulgar were women, the very young and very old, primitive peoples, and the uneducated masses, all those not involved in philosophical inquiry of the natural world, and they were “barbarous, ignorant, and unruly.”[39] “The ‘order of nature,’ like ‘enlightenment,’” according to Daston and Park, “was defined largely by what or who was excluded.”[40] As much as this book is about the emotion of wonder and the objects of that wonder, Wonders and the Order of Nature is about how European elites largely defined themselves – how their place in society related to others morally or intellectually – through a “process of exclusion” and by how they understood the marvelous.

[1] Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books: 1998), p. 25.
[2] Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, p. 25.
[3] Ibid., p. 41.
[4] Ibid., p. 41.
[5] Ibid., p. 52.
[6] Ibid., p. 52.
[7] Ibid., p. 65.
[8] Ibid., p. 62.
[9] Ibid., p. 74.
[10] Ibid., p. 68.
[11] Marjorie Schwarzer, Riches, Rivals & Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2006), p. 70.
[12] Schwarzer, Riches, Rivals & Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America, p. 10.
[13] Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, p. 77.
[14] Ibid., p. 101.
[15] Ibid., p. 114.
[16] Ibid., p. 118.
[17] Ibid., p. 124.
[18] Ibid., p. 133.
[19] Ibid., p. 147.
[20] Ibid., p. 158.
[21] Ibid., p. 158.
[22] Ibid., p. 164.
[23] Ibid., p. 167.
[24] Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, “Unnatural Conceptions: Monsters in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France and England,” Past and Present 92 (1981): 20-54.
[25] Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, p. 201.
[26] Ibid., p. 202.
[27] Ibid., p. 220.
[28] Ibid., p. 218.
[29] Ibid., p. 230.
[30] Ibid., p. 249.
[31] Ibid., p. 277.
[32] Ibid., p. 273.
[33] Ibid., p. 267.
[34] Ibid., p. 301.
[35] Ibid., p. 361.
[36] Ibid., p. 363.
[37] Ibid., p. 158.
[38] Ibid., p. 230.
[39] Ibid., p. 343.
[40] Ibid., p. 350.

Rediscovering Darwin: The real story of Darwin’s finches

From the HIST-NAT-HIST listserve (10/25):

Dear all,
The Grant Museum warmly invites you to:

The 11th Annual Robert Grant Lecture
Rediscovering Darwin: The real story of Darwin’s finches
Dr John van Wyhe
Wednesday 14th November 4.30pm

Since 1982 we have known that Darwin did not discover evolution in the Galapagos Islands when he saw the specially adapted beaks of the finches which now bear his name. But one question has remained unanswered, if Darwin did not invent the story, who did? This lecture will reveal the unexpected origins of one of the most popular myths about Charles Darwin.

Dr John van Wyhe is a Darwin historian at the University of Cambridge. He is founder and Director of Darwin online and a Bye-Fellow of Christ’s College. He is co-editing a volume of Darwin’s Beagle field notebooks and editing a volume of Darwin’s complete shorter publications for 2009. His recent research has revealed that Darwin did not delay publishing his theory for many years after its discovery.

Following the lecture there will be a drinks reception and a private view of the Museum. This event is free and there is no need to book.

Please note entrance to the Grant Museum is now via Malet Place.

Best wishes
Jack Ashby

Learning and Access Manager
Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy
Darwin Building
Department of Biology
University College London
Gower Street

Tel:(+44) 020 7679 2647 (Internal ext. 32647)
Fax:(+44) 020 7679 7096

Founder and general editor of the Darwin Correspondence Project dies at age 95

UPDATE (10/6): Frederick H. Burkhardt, a Prominent Educator, Dies at 95, New York Times

UPDATE (10/1): In Memoriam from the History of Science Society

UPDATE: Richard Carter, FCD’s and Peter McGrath’s thoughts….

From The Darwin Correspondence Project (2007-9-24):

We are sad to announce the death at 95 of Frederick Burkhardt, founder and general editor of the Darwin Correspondence Project. Fred remained active as an editor and fundraiser until the last weeks of his life and will be deeply missed by all of us who have been privileged to count him as a colleague and a friend.

Fred first conceived of a project to publish all of Darwin’s correspondence in 1974 on his retirement as President of the American Council of Learned Societies, and when he was already at work on an edition of the papers of William James. The importance of Fred’s personal contribution to the Project’s success was recognised in the United States in 2003 when it was one of the grounds for the award of the Thomas Jefferson Gold Medal of the American Philsophical Society – its highest honour. In 2002 Cambridge University was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for the Darwin Correspondence Project, given in recognition not only of the Project’s value to the scholarly community but also of its outstanding contribution to national and international cultural heritage. That the Project has been able to attract a considerable number of able researchers and editors across a full spectrum of disciplines is largely a tribute to the inspiring nature of his direction and to his own abiding enthusiasm and dedication.Both the nineteen-volume edition of the William James papers, and the fifteen volumes of the Darwin correspondence so far published, were started in so-called retirement after a full career that began with degrees in philosophy from Columbia and a scholarship to Oxford. Convinced that philosophers had something to contribute to solving practical problems Fred served with the OSS in the Second World War, and was part of the US administration of Berlin in its aftermath. He became a dedicated and gifted academic administrator, serving as president of Bennington College, the liberal arts college in Vermont, and then as president of the American Council of Learned Societies in New York at a critical stage in its history. That was a return to his roots as Fred was born in Brooklyn, the son of German immigrants. He was a trustee and then chairman of New York Public Library and a member of New York City’s Board of Higher Education.

Fred’s association with Cambridge brought him honorary fellowship of Clare Hall, and many friends. Fred and his wife, Anne, were for many years regular summer visitors to the manuscript room of Cambridge University Library, where they worked on the Darwin correspondence together.

Curriculum vitae: Frederick Henry Burkhardt
Born Brooklyn, 13 September 1912. Died Bennington, Vermont, 23 September 2007.
BA, PhD Columbia University
LittB, University of Oxford
LLD (hon) Michigan University, 1968
LLD (hon) Columbia University, 1974
LLD (hon) Ball State University, 1976
President, Bennington College, Vermont, 1947–57; Deputy Director, Office of Public Affairs, US High Commission for Germany 1950–51; president, American Council of Learned Societies, 1957–74.

General editor, The works of William James (19 vols. Harvard Press, 1975–88); founding editor, The correspondence of Charles Darwin, (15 vols. to date, CUP, 1985–); editor, A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882 (Garland 1985; 2d ed. CUP, 1994); editor, Charles Darwin’s letters: a selection 1825–1859 (CUP, 1996, 1998), Origins: selected letters of Charles Darwin, 1822–1859 (CUP in press), Evolution: selected letters of Charles Darwin, 1860–1870 (CUP in press) .

Editor, translator: J. G. Herder God, some conversations on Spinoza’s system, 1940, 1962; editor, Cleavage in our culture, 1952; contributor, The comparative reception of Darwinism, 1975.

Happy Birthday, Buffon!

2007 is a big year for birth and death anniversaries of naturalists and scientists (see pages 4-5 of this newsletter). May 23 marked the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus‘s birth, and just as celebrations are planned for the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth in 2009, several insitutions celebrated the life and legacy of Linnaeus, such as the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences (Linnaeus 2007), Uppsala University (Linne 2007), and the California Academy of Sciences (Linnaeus and Beyond). The Linnaeus Correspondence website was introduced, the journal Nature devoted a wealth of pages to “Linnaeus’ Legacy,” and there were a few radio programs, as well as scores of link-happy blog posts (1, 2, 3).

But 2007, and today specifically, marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Linnaeus’s rival, George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. From Today in Science History:

Buffon was a French naturalist, who formulated a crude theory of evolution and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible. In 1739 he was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on a comprehensive work on natural history, for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began this work in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life. It would eventually run to 44 volumes, including quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals. He proposed (1778) that the Earth was hot at its creation and, from the rate of cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

In Finding Order in Nature: The Naturalist Tradition from Linnaeus to E.O. Wilson (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2000), historian of science Paul L. Farber notes the realtionship between Linnaeus and Buffon:

Buffon’s encyclopedia, combined with Linnaeus’s brilliant work in classifying and naming, laid the foundation for the emergence of natural history as a scientific discipline during the second half of the eighteenth century. This is not to say that Buffon and Linnaeus saw themselves as partners. Linnaeus regarded Buffon’s flowery prose as a distraction to those who sought knowledge of nature, and Buffon considered Linnaeus’s classification systems as little more than boring tables in which to store information. But the combined result of their individual efforts was to set a new level of rigor in investigation, one that gave primary importance to knowledge gained through observation. Nature was seen to operate through natural laws and contained a structure that humans could fathom. The key to understanding nature did not come from Scripture, or contemplation, or mystical insight. It consisted in careful study, comparison, and generalization. (20-21)

Farber further notes that although Linnaeus’s work was largely religious in purpose (to discover “God’s own secret logic of biological classification,” in David Quammen’s words from the June 2007 National Geographic)). Also, Buffon searched for more broad themes in nature from a secular viewpoint, placing the role of classification below his attempt to understand natural relationships, geographical distribution, and historical change. Farber also states that although they differed in their approach to the study of nature, they had alot in common – they both “strove for an understanding of the order in nature,” and had “supplied a foundation” for the study of nature.

Linnaeus is well remembered. From the recent Nature issue on Linnaeus: “His categorizations were not uniformly valuable, but his systematic spirit, his stress on the concept of species, and the formal but adaptable conventions of nomenclature he introduced have endured” [“The legacy of Linnaeus” (editorial), Nature 446 (March 15, 2007): 231]. But since Farber, and Stephen Jay Gould [“Inventing Natural History in Style,” in The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History (New York: Harmony books, 2000, p. 75-90; and “The Man Who Invented Natural History,” The New York Review of Books, October 22, 1998, part online here] explain the importance of Buffon’s contibutions to science, then why all the celebrations for Linnaeus and not so much for Buffon?

Here is an article [PDF: Richard Conniff, “Happy Birthday, Linnaeus,” Natural History 115 (Dec 2006/Jan 2007): 42-47] that answers the question, “Are we celebrating the wrong birthday?”

Come and stand here,” said a guide in a room on the second floor of the house where the naturalist Carl Linnaeus lived with his wife, five children, several monkeys, parrots, and a pet raccoon. The house, in Uppsala, Sweden, is now the Linnaeus Museum. “Do you feel the way the floor is worn away under your feet?”

Linnaeus’s sexual system for classifying flowering plants appears in the 1736 edition of his Species Plantarum. Linnaeus first assigned the flowering plants to classes according to the number of stamens, or male parts, of each flower, and further differentiated each class into orders according to the number of pistils, or female parts.

Linnaeus stood on this spot to lecture his students, in a corner of the room where the professorial elbow naturally eases back onto the carved mantle. By all accounts, he was a charismatic teacher, both ribald and full of religious fervor for the wonders of the natural world. The words Linnaeus spoke here inspired nineteen of his students to undertake voyages of exploration to the far corners of the Earth. He called them his “apostles,” praised their every “immortal” discovery, and saw half of them die overseas in the service of his mission. His ideas would also prove indispensable to later explorers, from Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin to biologists of the present day.

Linnaeus was, of course, the inventor of the system by which every living species gets its two-part scientific name, its genus and its species. Homo sapiens, for instance, was a name Linnaeus coined. People today tend to take his system for granted, and scientific names such as E. coli and C. elegans have become part of the common language. Of Linnaeus himself, even biologists specializing in natural history generally know little or nothing.

But for those who had struggled to make sense of the world before Linnaeus, the system he invented was cause for jubilation. “When Linnaeus started,” says Thierry Hoquet, a science historian at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, “natural history was a mess, and people needed guidelines. Do you know in Greek mythology the story of how Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, and gave him a ball of thread to help him find his way out of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth? Linnaeus gave us the thread.”

Having followed that thread myself, I wanted to know more about Linnaeus. A good way to do it, it seemed to me, was to look not just at Linnaeus, but also at his underappreciated French rival, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, whose encyclopedic Histoire naturelle became one of the best sellers of the eighteenth century. Both men were born in 1707, and so both are rapidly approaching their 300th birthdays. And both struggled with the same fundamental questions, which still trouble biologists today: What exactly is a species? Where does one species end and another begin? How do species and habitats affect each other?

Both Linnaeus and Buffon were towering figures in their day, and each despised the other. Linnaeus regarded himself as anointed by God to bring order to the chaos of creation. Buffon, who was in many ways the deeper thinker, questioned the very idea of creation and provided crucial scientific evidence against Biblical assumptions about the age of the Earth. Linnaeus focused his relentless energy on naming species and organizing them into groups. Buffon ridiculed the whole idea of imposing order on nature, preferring instead to focus on how species behaved and how they related to one another.

And yet with the questions they asked, Linnaeus and Buffon together launched one of the greatest intellectual quests in history–to understand life on Earth in all its diversity. In place of the animal folklore that earlier naturalists had complacently repeated since Roman times, they demanded specimens and eyewitness accounts. When they began their work, the number of species known to science was no more than a few thousand. Today, it numbers about 1.7 million. Linnaeus will get much of the credit for that, in tercentennial events around the world in the coming year. But as I learned about Buffon, whose own tercentennial will be largely ignored, I began to wonder: could it be that we’re celebrating the wrong birthday?

Botanical expedition to Lapland, where Linnaeus acquired the costume depicted in this 1775 lithograph, helped establish Linnaeus’s image as an explorer and proved critical to his success. Linnaeus portrayed his expedition as a perilous adventure among dangerous natives, though he probably spent only a few Weeks among the Sami people there.

The known world at the start of the eighteenth century did not include Antarctica, nor much more than a glimpse of the coast of Australia. But every ship coming home from Africa, Asia, and the Americas seemed to carry some bizarre new creature: an opossum appeared on the crowded London quays, an iguana in Antwerp, a chambered nautilus shell in Paris. How did such creatures live? Where did they fit in the scheme of creation? How did they affect ideas about our own species? Naturalists caught in the tide of strange new life-forms had no language or methodology for discussing such questions. They could not agree on how to name the plants and animals in their own backyards. How could they possibly make sense of species at the opposite ends of the Earth?

Linnaeus was hardly an obvious candidate to provide the answer. He was a provincial, descended from four generations of Lutheran parsons in the Swedish countryside. But he was a careful observer of plants and animals, and compulsively organized about recording his observations. He was also ambitious and spectacularly egotistical (“Nobody has been a greater botanist or zoologist,” he once wrote). By the age of twenty-five he had already completed an expedition to Lapland, sponsored by the Royal Society of Science in Uppsala. He later depicted his journey as a perilous adventure among dangerous natives in uncharted regions. But in her 1999 biography, Linnaeus: Nature and Nation, the historian Lisbet Koerner of Imperial College London concludes that he probably spent no more than a few weeks among the Sami people there. He also claimed double the distance he actually traveled, possibly because he was being paid by the mile.

His image as an explorer proved critical to his success. In Amsterdam, London, and Paris, he dressed in a showy variation on the native costume of the Sami. Together with his buoyant personality, the figure he cut gained him entrée with the leading scientists of the day. He quickly impressed his new friends with his ideas about the classification of species, which he published as Systema naturae, at the age of twenty-eight.

The Linnaean system incorporated three important innovations, none of them completely original. First, Linnaeus classified flowering plants according to the number of stamens and pistils, the male and female parts, in each flower. Such a simplistic sexual system was, he knew, artificial (other botanists soon replaced it with a reliance on a broader range of traits). But it instantly opened up the botanical world to anyone who could look into a flower and count. Second, he devised precise rules for describing any species, which, again, even beginners could follow. And third, he gradually introduced his binomial system. A species that used to suffer under the name Arum summis labris degustantes mutos reddens became instead simply Arum maculatum.

Cherubs and a trumpet-bearing angel weave garlands about the image of Linnaeus in this adulatory, 1806 portrait by Francesco Bartolozzi. The religious iconography reflects Linnaeus’s Bible-based beliefs, an integral part of his scientific approach. Like most of his contemporaries, Linnaeus rooted his definition of species in the plants and animals with which the God of Genesis populated Eden.

Linnaeus shrewdly served up this new system with a lyrical dollop of sexual innuendo. He described flower petals as “the bridal bed,” perfumed and hung with “precious bed-curtains,” awaiting “the time for the bridegroom to embrace his beloved bride.” He spoke blithely of two brides in bed with one husband (two pistils and one stamen).

Sex undoubtedly attracted newcomers to the charms of botany, and the simplicity of the Linnaean system gave them confidence in their identifications. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau later celebrated the Linnaean system as a source of “great pleasure,” because the layperson was no longer confined to making isolated observations. Testimonials of delight and gratitude arrived from around the world. By the time he was thirty-three, Linnaeus was already boasting that scholars abroad regarded him on a par with Newton and Galileo.
Then, as now, Uppsala was a college town of pink-, cream-, and ochre-colored buildings arranged around a pretty little river, the Fyrisån. The garden where Linnaeus practiced his craft as a botanist and as a professor at Uppsala University occupies much of a city block in the middle of town, with his house on one corner. From here, Linnaeus used to lead regular collecting excursions into the local countryside joined by as many as 300 people at a time. With his characteristic passion for order, Linnaeus organized them into platoons. They armed themselves with butterfly nets and carried their trophies home pinned to their hats. Kettle drums and hunting horns announced their jubilant return at the end of the day, accompanied by cries of “Long Live Linnaeus!”

From the start, Linnaeus also attracted critics. The German botanist Johann Georg Siegesbeck protested that Linnaeus was turning innocent flower gardens into beds of harlotry. Linnaeus, who suffered criticism poorly, responded by giving the name Siegesbeckia to a small, foul-smelling weed. Another vocal critic, though not on sexual grounds, was the French naturalist Buffon.

The Jardin des Plantes in Paris is today an enclosed compound of rose gardens, tree-lined alleys, and museums about the natural world. Georges-Louis Leclerc, a son of provincial bourgeoisie, assumed the powerful title of administrator here in 1739, when he was just thirty-two. During the next half-century, he more than doubled the size of the Royal Botanical Garden, as it was then known, to its present sixty-four acres. He also laid the foundations for what was to become the Museum national d’Histoire naturelle, one of the finest natural history museums in the world. Leclerc was a talented administrator, politically adroit, a confidante of everyone from Benjamin Franklin to King Louis XV. But the key to his reputation was his writing, which made him internationally famous as Buffon–later Comte, or Count, of Buffon–a name taken from a small Burgundy village near his country home in Montbard.

From 1740 on, Buffon spent half the year in Montbard (“Paris is hell,” he wrote). Here Buffon set out to catalogue the king’s collection of natural artifacts, taking on his new task with such enthusiasm that he eventually wrote thirty-six volumes of his encyclopedic Histoire naturelle. It became an attempt to synthesize everything then known about the animal and mineral worlds. The Histoire naturelle was an immediate best seller–and remained a pillar of French literature until Buffon’s lofty prose fell out of favor in mid-twentieth century.

What made Buffon different was not just his style, but also his scrupulous avoidance of religious or supernatural explanations. Linnaeus and most other contemporaries still rooted their definition of species in the plants and animals created by God to populate Eden. Buffon, by contrast, thought it was absurd to imagine God being “very busy with the way a beetle’s wing should fold.” He defined a species scientifically, as a group of animals breeding together over time.

Such departures from orthodoxy angered religious authorities, who presented Buffon with a list of fourteen “reprehensible statements.” Buffon dutifully signed a declaration of his faith in Scripture. (“It is better to be humble than hung,” he remarked.) But he left his “reprehensible statements” unaltered.

Buffon’s keen interest in habitat and behavior anticipated sciences such as ecology and ethology, which were still 200 years in the future. And though he had no inkling of evolution, he wrote about how species could be transformed by their habitat. He believed, for instance, that a cold, wet climate caused animals in the Americas to be smaller. (His friend Thomas Jefferson, then the American ambassador to Paris, gently corrected this error by presenting the Royal Botanical Garden with the hide of a moose.) Buffon’s aim was to incorporate particular observations about animals into general theories about the natural world, and it earned him a reputation as “the Pliny and the Aristotle of France.” Given the egos involved, a clash with the “Newton and Galileo” of Sweden was inevitable.

Books, a globe, and a few animals serve as decorative elements in this 1769 portrait of Buffon, in contrast to the religious imagery in the painting of Linnaeus on the opposite page. Unlike Linnaeus, Buffon scrupulously avoided religious and supernatural explanations. Buffon suggested that animals were not immutable forms created by God, but rather adapted to their habitats.

Buffon struck the first blow in the mid-1740s, attacking Linnaeus for imposing an artificial order on the disorderly natural world. He gleefully pointed out absurdities in the groups Linnaeus had proposed. Did tulips really belong with barberries? Or elm trees with carrots? Linnaeus had mistakenly grouped those species together because he did not realize that a particular trait–the number of pistils and stamens, for instance–could evolve independently even in the most distantly related species. It was even worse in zoology. On the basis of dental structure, for instance, humans and monkeys both turned up in the order Anthropomorpha. But so did two-toed sloths. “One must really be obsessed with classifying to put such different beings together,” Buffon wrote.

Linnaeus dismissed his antagonist as a “hater of all methods,” who delivered “few observations” and much “beautiful ornate French.” He quoted the Bible (“And I have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight”) to prophesy that the “Frenchman named Buffon” who “always wrote against Linnaeus” would suffer the wrath of God.

Buffon’s objections to the Linnaean system arose partly from sincere belief. “Nature moves through unknown gradations and consequently she cannot be a party to these divisions,” he wrote, “because she passes from one species to another species, and often from one genus to another genus, by imperceptible nuances.”

He was highlighting a problem that bedevils biologists to this day. The Linnaean system, even in its modern form, is far from perfect. New evidence routinely obliges taxonomists to move species from one genus to another, or even to an entirely different order. At times, the revised groupings can seem as absurd as the ones Buffon lampooned. Buffon was also correct in arguing that the Linnaean system is often arbitrary. Taxonomic “splitters” tend to recognize new species on the basis of relatively small differences. Taxonomic “lumpers” group them together on the basis of traits they have in common. Then they fight.

But if the system Linnaeus invented is so flawed, why has his reputation endured? Partly it’s because binomial identification has proved so convenient. And partly it’s because Linnaeus was extraordinarily lucky. Although he was thinking about God and creation, he developed a rudimentary hierarchy of classification that would prove congenial, a century later, to the new evolutionary thinking of Darwin. His timing was also impeccable. He provided a coherent system of classification just as the age of discovery was revealing the overwhelming richness of plant and animal life.

Buffon, meanwhile, proposed no alternative way of coming to grips with the abundance of new species. He made the mistake, as absurd as anything in Linnaeus, of putting human beings at the center of the animal world, and his Histoire naturelle paid inordinate attention to species that were useful and familiar to us. Perhaps Linnaeus was a mere collector and classifier, as Buffon argued. And maybe he lacked Buffon’s insight into ecology and animal behavior. But Buffon somehow missed a point all modern scientists understand: Classification is the essential first step. You need to know what species you are looking at, before you can begin to talk about how they behave.

The attack on Linnaeus mainly hurt Buffon himself. According to Phillip R. Sloan, a historian of science at the University of Notre Dame, the Histoire naturelle was quickly translated into most major European languages. But it was twenty-five years before the first translation appeared in England, where the cult of Linnaeus was particularly devout. (Even in the eighteenth century he was celebrated there as “the immortal Linnaeus.”)

But does Buffon deserve to be forgotten? His relative obscurity, like the immortality of Linnaeus, also turns out to be largely a matter of luck.

From Montbard, I walked along a canal to a collection of handsome stone buildings with red tile roofs, just outside Buffon’s namesake village. It’s an old forge where, late in life, Buffon conducted a series of remarkable experiments. He had his workers take molten balls of iron of various size and composition from the smelter and carefully measure how long it took them to cool down. His theory was that the Earth originated as a fireball, gradually solidifying as it cooled. By scaling up from iron balls to the size of the planet, he hoped to estimate the age of the Earth. His numbers ranged from 10 million years to as little as 75,000 years, the estimate he published when his “Epochs of Nature” finally appeared in 1778.

Geologists now know that the Earth is billions of years old. But Buffon’s work was the beginning of the end for the biblical belief that all creation dated back just 6,000 years. According to the late Stephen Jay Gould, “Epochs of Nature” was “the most important scientific document ever written in promoting the transition to a fully historical view of nature.”

The forge is now a museum, but amazingly, the exhibits make no reference whatever to the experiments Buffon conducted there. And that seems to be Buffon’s fate in history. His ideas, though essential in their day to the advancement of science, were consigned thereafter to oblivion.

Le Jardin des Plantes, the most important botanical garden in France, is depicted around 1805. In his half-century as its administrator, Buffon more than doubled its size. According to one story, Buffon’s son was sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution by former neighbors that Buffon père had evicted in the course of expanding the garden.

Thierry Hoquet, the author of a recent book about Buffon, credits him with four important ideas in the history of science: the understanding of geologic time, the definition of species on biological terms, the role of habitat in shaping species, and the conviction that species can transform over time. Those ideas all stand up to modern scrutiny. But they are relatively complex, and buried in a prodigious stream of other ideas.

Buffon’s reputation also suffered for political reasons. He died in 1788, a year before the French Revolution, which, unsurprisingly, had little regard for such a close ally of the king. Buffon’s son went to the guillotine. At least the revolutionaries understood the value of Buffon’s work well enough to found the Museum national d’Histoire naturelle on the collections he had largely assembled. But one of the early zoologists there, Georges Cuvier, set out to turn natural history into a scientific discipline. And clearing the path to professionalism meant pushing Buffon and the kind of amateur naturalists he had inspired into the dustbin.

But even Cuvier later conceded that Linnaeus and Buffon together possessed the essential tools for rapidly advancing the scientific study of nature: “Linnaeus knew with precision the distinctive traits of creatures; Buffon comprehended in a glance some of their most remote relations.” Without both, natural science as we know it would not exist.

At the Jardin des Plantes, a bronze statue of Buffon presides in casual splendor over the gardens and the natural history museums he helped make great. One day this past summer, a worker–an unwitting agent of the cult of Linnaeus–set up a sprinkler directly in front of the statue, so that it seemed to be spitting indifferently onto Buffon’s ruffled blouse. But then the pressure went off, and for a little while, the image of Buffon glistened again under the Paris sun.

There is one institutional celebration for the 300th anniversay of Buffon’s birth, however – Symposium Buffon – this October at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Darwinism after Darwin: Abstracts Online

The Darwinism after Darwin: new historical perspectives conference takes place September 3-5. The website now has a programme with abstracts of most of the presentations.


From the conference booklet:

On behalf of the Division of History and Philosophy of Science and the British Society for the History of Science, welcome to the University of Leeds, and to this conference debating Darwinism after Darwin. Before celebrations get underway for the 2009 Darwin sesquicentenary and bicentenary we hope this meeting will provide an opportunity to think afresh about what happened with Darwinism ‘after Darwin’, providing new historical perspectives on evolutionary theories and ideas, experiments and practices, books and images, bodies and displays. Delegates and speakers from many different countries, disciplines and perspectives join us for a diverse programme of talks and events, which we hope should make for a stimulating and enjoyable experience!

A few abstracts I find interesting:

Science and the life story: the historical development of biographies of Darwin
Suzanne Gapps, University of Western Sydney, Australia

Steve Jones has described Darwin as the ‘best biographized of all scientists’. Janet Browne estimates that there have been at least seventy biographies of Darwin dating from 1882 to 2004. However, determining the exact number of biographies is an elusive task as the biographical narrative frequently merges with the exposition and discussion of his scientific ideas. The interweaving of accounts of Darwin’s science with his life story began during his lifetime and has continued to diversify so that its forms now include internet sites, television documentaries, radio broadcasts, museum exhibits, comics and children’s books. This paper seeks to explore why the area of evolution and natural history continues to sustain such a strong biographical interest in Darwin. What values and assumptions are invested in these life stories? Does his personal narrative symbolise the journey of a modern, rational individual away from a belief system anchored in religion and myth towards a world in which science is offered to consumers of the mass media as the basis for a belief system? Are we reading the work through the life? What might be the implications of this for the public understanding of science? Is this biographical preoccupation drawing attention away from the more problematic aspects of the associated scientific theory and its arguments?

Giving Darwin a decent burial
Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, UK

I propose to use counterfactual historiography to argue that the branches of biology that we today consider to be most advanced – molecular biology, especially in relation to genetics – would have progressed more swiftly had Darwin NOT persevered and published Origin of Species in 1859. The predominance of other scientifically respectable theories of evolution available at the time, which typically did not treat design as an illusion in nature (e.g. Lamarck’s, Wallace’s), would have provided – and indeed did provide — a more hospitable intellectual environment for the development of lab-based branches of biology responsible for bringing us to where we are now. Moreover, I will argue that had Darwin been out of the world-historic picture, biology would not have acquired its distinctly ‘historicist’ character, to which philosophers have become reconciled only in recent years. Rather, genetics and molecular biology would be more closely aligned with engineering-based disciplines like bionics, precedents for which could be found in the first half of the 20th century, via systems theory perspectives and what became known as ‘biophysics’. I conclude that rather than continuing to venerate Darwin, even though he would find relatively little of contemporary biological research relevant to his own studies, we would do better – in time for his 200th anniversary – to retire Darwin as The Last Great Historicist, who has earned a place alongside Marx and Freud more for reasons of cultural iconicity than scientific relevance.

The Thinking Path
Shirley Chubb, University of Chichester, UK

Thinking Path explores the life, ideas and influence of Charles Darwin through a body of work that combines multiple digital imagery with artifacts and sites related to the man and his theories. The exhibition takes its inspiration from Darwin’s daily ritual of walking the same path at Down House in Kent, his family home for 40 years. Used as a vehicle for reflection and long- term observations of his environment the ‘thinking path’ fuelled Darwin’s emerging theories, culminating in The Origin of Species.
This presentation will discuss how Thinking Path drew inspiration from Darwin’s enduring family life within Down House and its grounds, and how he understood this existence as a metaphor for the complexity and interdependency of life as presented in his published theories. It will also consider how the accumulation and management of images that constitute the exhibition became an active process that mimicked Darwin’s acknowledged use of compilation as a research methodology.
In addition the presentation will explore how Thinking Path represents the continuing resonance, debate and reinterpretation of Darwin’s work within the multiple realms of religion, science and culture. Please see for further information on the exhibition.

“Sure, we know all that…”: dealing with popular Darwin myths
Peter Kjærgaard, University of Aarhus, Denmark

The reactions following the launch of in December 2006 were many and varied. Creationist groups saw it as a cunning new strategy from “the Darwinian conspiracy”. Teachers, scientists and even politicians sent letters of thanks. All this was expected. However, the take in the media was a bit surprising. The story that ran in all the major newspapers and on the national radio and television was not that the Danish translations of Darwin’s books were now available for free on the internet. Very few seemed to pay attention to that. The featured news story was that Darwin never actually said that man descents from apes. The question now is how an almost 150 year old story could make headlines. It has not been a secret, it was not a new discovery, or, in other words, it was not news. The answer probably lies in the fact that still today there are a lot of Darwin and evolution myths that thrive unchallenged. For historians of science the standard stories that everybody knows provide a golden opportunity to get people’s attention, simply by pointing out that these stories are wrong. This gives you an opportunity to actually talk about Darwin, not because you are asked to comment on Intelligent Design or similar, but simply because the journalists want to hear about the science. In this paper I will talk about some of the myths and the reactions, but also discuss how to present history of science in the media.

A lesson from the past: how biologists use history
Graeme Beale, Edinburgh University, UK

Scientists have always been interested in their own history, and many of the great names of the history of science have at least scientific backgrounds, from Duhem onwards. The formal relationship between scientists and their own history is well illustrated by Kuhn’s being asked to teach a course on the subject, when still officially a scientist. However surprisingly little comment has been made on the informal ways that scientists relate to their own history, and it is this area that I will address. Biologists have a heritage of using their own history as a both a tool and a touchstone, and no-one plays a larger role in this type of iconography than Darwin himself. The focus of this discussion will be on twentieth century behavioural biologists, particularly W.H. Thorpe, Niko Tinbergen and Ernst Mayr as they saw in Darwin their image of ‘naturalism’. I will explain how these biologists used vignettes about his life to demonstrate their idea of ‘Darwin as a naturalist’ and in doing so turned their own disciplinary history into a kind of ‘cautionary tale’ which emphasises outdoor study of nature in the wild. These later behavioural biologists used these cautionary tales with their twentieth century students and lay audiences to demonstrate the importance of their ideas of the ethos of ‘naturalism’ to biology, and in doing so show a very different idea of what ‘Darwinism’ means to this unusual collection of behavioural biologists.

Darwin Bibliography

NOTE: I am using only 2007 references for this bibliography.

I am in the beginning stages of compiling a Darwin bibliography for 2007. I intend to include professional journal articles, popular magazine articles, significant newspaper pieces (all including book reviews), and books. It’ll be a grand undertaking to include all of the published work in Darwin studies and related history of natural history for the current year so far. So I ask anyone out there to email me at anything you think I may not easily come across. I figure I will have all the major history of science journals covered, and Science, Nature, National Geographic, Natural History, and Smithsonian. I appreciate anyone’s help in gathering references….