Asa Gray born 200 years ago, how to celebrate

Asa Gray (1810-1888)

Botanist Asa Gray and friend of Darwin was born November 18, 1810. This year, then, marks a bicentennial. If you happen to be near the Harvard Museum of Natural History, there are events this fall to celebrate his legacy:

RE:Design: A Dramatization of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin and Asa Gray
A one-act play performed by the Menagerie Theatre Company and a panel discussion with Paul Bourne and Janet Browne
RE: Design is a fascinating dramatization of the 30 years of correspondence between Charles Darwin in England and Asa Gray in Boston, produced by the English theatre group, Menagerie, and commissioned by the Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge.

Adapted exclusively from their own words — including previously unpublished letters — RE: Design offers a window onto the minds and worlds of these two groundbreaking 19th century naturalists as they debate the consequences for religious belief of Darwin’s new theory of evolution by natural selection. Intellectual debate around science and religion is interwoven with gossip, opinion, and anecdotes about everything from war and slavery, to family incidents and unfortunate gardening accidents. The one-act play will be followed by a panel discussion with RE:Design director Paul Bourne and Janet Browne, the Aramont Professor of the History of Science at Harvard. (This event is in lieu of Professor Janet Browne’s lecture, Corresponding Naturalists: Asa Gray, Charles Darwin, and the Making of American Botany.) Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street. Part of the Asa Gray Bicentennial series.

Darwin’s “Abominable Mystery” and the Search for the First Flowering Plants
Lecture by William (Ned) Friedman
Charles Darwin was baffled by many big questions in evolutionary biology, and none more so than the mystery of how the planet’s first flowering plants came to be. Join William (Ned) Friedman, newly appointed Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, for an exploration into the evolutionary origin of flowering plants, and how recent advances in the fossil record have shed new light on what they may have looked like, where they “lived,” and how they reproduced. Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.

Thoreau as Climatologist: Tracking 160 Years of Climate Change
Lecture with Charles Davis
Over 160 years ago, Henry David Thoreau initiated a study of flowering times at Walden Pond. Today, a research team including, Charles Davis, Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator in the Harvard Herbarium, has updated Thoreau’s records with current data and integrated them with modern evolutionary biology to reveal how climate change and earlier flowering times have affected Walden’s plants. Those that have greatly declined include many charismatic native wildflower species, while those that have thrived include many nonnative and invasive species. Davis will explore how an integration of historical records combined and cutting edge science can help us potentially mitigate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.
Image of Charles Davis courtesy of Harvard University News Office.

Drawing Plants and Flowers A workshop for adults
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Explore the beauty and diversity of the plant kingdom through the medium of pencil and paper. Taught by artist and educator Erica Beade, this half-day workshop will introduce botanical drawing techniques through close observation and exercises in contour, gesture, foreshortening and shading. All skill levels are welcome. Advanced registration required.

Grow, Eat, Learn: Members family program at the Harvard Community Garden
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Harvard and the local community are creating and maintaining a vegetable garden in the heart of Harvard Square. Explore the basics of plant and soil science with Harvard Professor Donald Pfister; learn about sustainable urban agriculture with Kathleen Frith of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment; hear growing tips from students; and get your hands dirty harvesting your crops. Bring a bag lunch to enjoy with your harvest. Location: 27 Holyoke Place in Harvard Square. Pre-registration required. RSVP to or call 617.496.6972. Learn more about membership in the museum.

Walking Tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery: Members Tour with Donald Pfister
Asa Gray’s central role in establishing Harvard as the botanical center of North America can be appreciated through the impressive landscape, history, and flora of the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Join Donald Pfister, Asa Gray Professor of Botany and Director of the Harvard Herbaria, for a tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery, site of Gray’s grave and the Asa Gray Garden, and other sites of interest, including the monument to the lost members of the United States Exploring Expedition, Louis Agassiz’s grave, and numerous horticultural gems. Space is limited. Pre-registration required. RSVP to or 617.496.6972. Learn more about membership in the museum.

DoD in Cambridge

I arrived in Cambridge, England today. Saturday and Sunday will see me at the Darwin in the Field conference at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. Today, I walked around, saw Darwin posters/ads everywhere, met up with Karen from The HMS Beagle Project (she was in town for the festival) and checked out a Darwin-art exhibit, as well as the very nice Young Darwin sculpture at Christ’s College. Long day, I am tired, and I have a little work to do on my paper in the morning (I present on Sunday).

Oh, Karen and I met Daniel Dennett! We were walking around King’s College and there he was! A picture with Dennett and many more to come, probably Sunday night or Monday night.

And on Monday I get the pleasure of exploring Cambridge and many Darwin exhibits with Richard Carter, the chap part responsible for Darwin being on UK currency.

One more thing: this evening I saw, and thoroughly enjoyed, the play Re:Design. Learn more about it here.

One-Time Only Play Focusing on Darwin and Emma

From The Wedgwood Family Blog:

Sent to me by Mrs Alison Wedgwood:

“Calling all descendants of Darwin and Wedgwood and friends of Staffordshire Dr Alan Wedgwood (head of the [“Etruria”] branch of the Wedgwood family) has sponsored this play for one showing only at the Wedgwood Museum on 14th June, all about Emma Wedgwood and Charles Darwin and based exactly on their letters. He’s saw it a few months ago and thought it was brilliant.”

BETTER THAN A DOG” : The relationship of CHARLES and EMMA DARWIN (both grand-children of Josiah Wedgwood) dramatically revealed through their letters and journals. Triumph and tragedy, humour and heartache all play their part in this extraordinary love story, which reveals the very private life of the very famous scientist and his sociable, devout wife


“Thrilled the audience ….. incredibly moving” Shropshire Star

“a totally different view of Darwin as loving father and adoring husband, with a great sense of humour” – Shrewsbury Chronicle.

Date & Time

June 14th at 4 pm

Tickets £20 including free entrance to the Wedgwood museum and refreshments.

Dispersal Event 3/12/2007

A negative review of the Darwin exhibit in Toronto, and thoughts on Alfred Russel Wallace:

Literature (A discussion of ID-related Reading): Why Alfred Russel Wallace deserves to be remembered
Barbara’s Blog on reading Quammen on Darwin and Wallace
2009 Darwin celebrations at the Darwin Museum in Moscow
The World’s Fair has two posts about/with Jan Golinski’s British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment
The Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Biology at Princeton (4-5 April 2007)will have papers presented on “A Crop of Better Babies: Industrialization of Children’s Health inAmerica, 1910-1920,” “Herd Books, Breeders’ Associations, and Natural History in the United States, 1860-1899,” “Adventures Through Time: Barnum Brown’s Abyssinian Expedition of 1920,” and “Stephen Jay Gould vs. Conway Morris: Design Space and Its Implications for Evolution,” among a few others. See the program here.
Free preview of ‘Origin’ in progress March 14
A free preview of the music and development of “The Origin,” Richard Einhorn’s oratorio-in-progress about the life of Charles Darwin, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 14, in Waterman Theatre.
The preview will feature passages, details and discussion from composer Einhorn and musical director Julie Pretzat, professor of music at SUNY Oswego. Kitka, a vocal ensemble with European roots, soloist Jacqueline Horner (of Anonymous 4) and the College Choir and Oswego Festival Chorus will perform selections from the production.
The seeds for the production took root when Mary Avrakotos, coordinator of the college’s Artswego Performing Arts Series, and Pretzat talked to Einhorn when he presented the multimedia production “Voices of Light” at SUNY Oswego in 2004. Einhorn told them about his idea to compose a production on Darwin’s life, and Artswego pursued the necessary grant support to bring it to fruition.”
Richard has spent years thinking about this piece and researching everything,” Avrakotos said. “He’s become a kind of Darwin scholar, and he’s translating his knowledge and passion into his work.”
The preview will feature some very powerful pieces and give audiences a flavor for the finished production, Pretzat said. Selections will include “200 Beetles,” showing Darwin’s thought process as he works on his theory of evolution; “Annie’s Memorial,” which Pretzat called a “devastating” piece about the passing of Darwin’s daughter; and the doo-wop-influenced, triumphant and “very funny” “Winged Seeds,” she said.
Among other things, audiences will realize it is not an overly serious or heavy production, and is “very accessible music, very tonal, very pleasing to the ears,” Pretzat noted.
“This is a piece about a really interesting man and the different thought process he had,” she explained. “He really roiled things around in his head for years. His theory took so long to get published because he was so conflicted about it.”
Einhorn also will discuss the artistic process and his research on Darwin at a free College Hour informance at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, in the Campus Center Auditorium.
The original hope was for a world premiere at SUNY Oswego this spring, but the additional time will make the finished product even better and allow for more educational opportunities like the preview, Avrakotos said. The new date for the premiere, February 2009, will fall during the month of the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth.
The creation and production of Richard Einhorn’s “The Origin” is supported by grants from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Music Fund and Entergy.
For more information, contact the Artswego office at 312-4581 or

Dispersal Event 3/9/2008

Working on something in the history of geological sciences? From the H-SCI-MED-TECH listserve:

I wish to organize a panel of Grad students, young scholars andestablished faculty for the upcoming HSS meeting (Pittsburgh) on the history of the earth sciences. My work focuses on evolutionary theory and paleobotany, and the paper I plan to present examines the role of paleobotany in the development of theModern Synthesis. Dr. Debra Lindsay (UNB) has agreed to be a part of thesession, and therefore I am looking for graduate student participation. Any papers that focus on the history of the earth sciences and/orconnections to evolution are welcome! Please contact me off list at Dawn M. Digrius, Ph.D.

A review of The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire by Joe Jackson from the Los Angeles Times:

Jackson gives us an excellent portrait of Joseph Dalton Hooker, director of the Kew gardens, a walking encyclopedia of botany and in some ways the scheming mastermind of this story. Hooker, a prickly, arrogant and duplicitous man, raged against tourists who came stomping around his gardens; he saw Kew as a scientific research and development factory designed to aid Britain’s vast colonial plantations by shuffling plants around the world when opportunities presented themselves.

The October 2007 issue of Archives of Natural History is available online here. It includes these two articles concerning Darwin:

“Charles Darwin, ‘little Dawkins’ and the platycnemic Yale men: introducing a bioarchaeological tale of the descent of man” (PDF) by Peter Lucas: A small box of animal bones, forwarded by Charles Darwin from North Wales, led to excavations by William Boyd Dawkins in Denbighshire between 1869 and 1872 and in Flintshire in 1886. Neglected riches of the archival record allow glimpses of Darwin and his family and contribute to this first narrative account of a pioneering episode in prehistoric archaeology which resulted in the three most important discoveries of Neolithic human remains in North Wales (and their later apparently near total disappearance). Many of the leg bones had features of the flattening of tibia (platycnemia) and femur (platymeria) first noted by George Busk in Neolithic bones from Gibraltar in 1863, and by Paul Broca at Cro-Magnon in 1868. Within a few years flattened leg bones were recognised across the globe, subsequently in samples extending back to the Middle Palaeolithic and forward to modern hunter-gatherers; platymeric shafts have been found at early hominin sites. Busk’s platycnemic index and understanding of flattening as related to muscular activity anticipate the work of modern bioarchaeologists. Dawkins was recipient of a much quoted account of the Huxley-Wilberforce confrontation at Oxford and opponent of Darwin’s views on human origins: his work opens up instructive perspectives.

“Fritz Müller’s first copy of Darwin’s Origin rediscovered” (PDF) by David A. West (short note, no abstract)

The Brooklyn Rail: review of the play Man-Made
The Morning Call: [letter] Darwin birthday is nothing to celebrate
The Red Notebook: Plinth Charming (about a petition for a Darwin statue & Brit citizenship)

[Picture of Darwin by David Levine (The New York Review of Books) can be found in Stephen Jay Gould’s An Urchin in the Storm (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987), p. 146. Even better, there is a gallery of Levine’s illustrations online, and it includes 2 more Darwin caricatures and more scientists]

Dispersal Event 3/7/2008

A post from Greenflame from October is new to me: Conversations with Charles, informing of a documentary on Darwin’s religious life called Paradise Lost, and a few other Darwin tidbits.

The New York Times: Creation Under the Clouds (review of play “Man-Made”) [more here]
The Ayn Rand Institute: Darwin and the Discovery of Evolution (lecture)
Chico News & Reviews: David Quammen and other shaved monkeys (article about David Quammen)
Science Musings Blog on two kinds of naturalists

Dispersal Event 3/6/2008

The winter issue of Cabinet magazine has a section devoted solely to bones, including “A Buried History of Paleontology: The remains of Waterhouse Hawkins” and “Cutting the World at Its Joints: An Interview with D. Graham Burnett (Comparative anatomy on trial).
Was Darwin an agnostic or an atheist? Larry Moran gives his thoughts, and Richard Carter disagrees with historian John van Wyhe’s claim that he was not an atheist. Listen to van Whye’s lecture, “Darwin’s Loss of Faith,” from 2007 I think.
Joanna Cobley of The Museum Detective blog in New Zealand has been doing podcasts relating to the history of science and natural history. Topics include Darwin, James Hector, Linnaeus, Daniel Solander, and Joseph Banks, the platypus, and scientific societies.
High praise from Charles Darwin at Gaddeswarup’s blog (concerns Henry Walter Bates)
Ellee Seymour, Proactive PR:
A date with Darwin (2009 celebrations)
The Canadian Press: Darwin exhibit in Toronto shows evolution of famed naturalist’s life
ABC Goulburn Murray: The Origin of Charles Darwin (not The Beagle!)
Tangled Up in Blue Guy: Darwin Took Steps (a Darwin art piece, below, here’s the making of)
Flickr photo pool: Pets named Darwin
The Chapel Hill News: Darwin Day celebrates curiosity
The Huffington Post: Are You There Mr. Darwin?
Times Online: Natural Fact (on Darwin, Wallace, and Patrick Matthew) and Museum plans rival to Sistine Chapel

Calgary Herald: Plant diversity drew early explorers

line of sight: darwin in buenos aires
A review of Re:Design from The Boston Globe
Granddaddy Long Legs: Happy Birthday Charles Darwin
The Daily Iowan: Saluting Darwin Desktop Darwin’s surprise discovery (coral reefs)
The Albuquerque Tribune: Santa Fe author Anne Weaver hopes her book about Darwin gets kids stoked about science (review of The Voyage of the Beetle)
The Plain Dealer: Case to celebrate, honor Darwin in 2008-09 (I’ve read elsewhere that all incoming students are required to read The Reluctant Mr. Darwin)
The Daily Nash-on (blog): Darwin in Distress

Small Dispersal Event

Richard Milner spoke about and sang a song from his Charles Darwin: Live & in Concert stage show on NPR on February 12th. You can watch it here.

Articles from the second issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach are freely available here, including a call for submissions for a planned joint issue with Evolutionary Biology for 2009 on “Why is Darwin relevant in the 21st Century?” Read about it in the editorial.

All 435 plates of Audubon’s Birds of America are viewable online with amazing resolution, through the University of Pittsburgh’s Darlington Digital Library.

A Darwin Video & A Darwin Lecture & A Darwin Cartoon

A VIDEO: The play Re:Design, about the correspondence between Darwin and botanist Asa Gray, is available for viewing online, via the Suffolk Humanists site.

A LECTURE: Tim Lewen’s Darwin Day lecture, “Darwin: A Philosophical Naturalist?”, is available via the Suffolks Humanists site.
AND A CARTOON: From Richard Carter, FCD. Click photo for link.

Charles Darwin: Live & in Concert (Seattle)

If you are going to be in Seattle on February 20th, here’s something to see:

Charles Darwin: Live and in Concert!
A noted anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, Richard Milner performs a unique blend of witty songs, history, science, and madness. His one-man musical about the life and times of Charles Darwin delights audiences of all ages.

Here’s the Darwin Live website. And a New York Public Radio appearance from last week.

"Don’t Dillydally Darwin": Darwin and Wallace on Stage

A new play about Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, called “Trumpery,” is on stage by the Atlantic Theater Company (at the Linda Gross Theater) in New York through the end of the year:

It is 1858. Charles Darwin struggles to finish The Origin of the Species, and give the world his theory of natural selection, while coping with family illness and his own loss of faith. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, an unknown explorer is about to come up with the exact same theory. Both vibrantly comic and deeply moving, Trumpery examines what it means to live in a Darwinian universe from the point of view of the man who discovered the idea.

Matt Dowling and Brian already beat me to posting about this, but here are some links to find out more: