STS.009 | Spring 2012 | Undergraduate

Evolution and Society

Lecture Notes

1 Introduction and Course Overview

An introduction to the themes of the course, together with a preview of some of the main ideas, issues, characters and plots that will be covered; plus a practical guide to how the course will work.

Lecture 1 (PDF)

2 The Nature and Scope of the Historical Sciences

What distinctive issues are involved in being scientific about the unrecoverable and unrepeatable past? An introduction to some of the key features shared by all historical sciences, including cosmology, historical geology, evolutionary biology, biological anthropology and archaeology.

Lecture 2 (PDF)

3 Natural History and Natural Theology

How did 17th and 18th century naturalists understand the origins of living things? A review of key ideas, particularly in the key science of taxonomy (classification), together with an account of the pervasive influence of natural theology on ideas about the world of life in the English-speaking world before 1800.

Lecture 3 (PDF - 1.1MB)

4 The Birth of Historical Geology

In the period 1780–1830, geologists developed increasingly sophisticated methods that allowed them to reconstruct the history of the earth. The emerging history of what would later be called “Deep Time” startled experts and lay citizens, alike, and provoked a huge amount of public interest and debate.

Lecture 4 (PDF - 2.7MB)

5 Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism

The two dominant schools of thought about the history of the earth in the early-Victorian period battled over whether geological changes were rapid and revolutionary (“Catastrophism”) or slow and gradual (“Uniformitarianism”). Ironically enough, both schools of thought contributed something useful to the emerging science of evolution.

Lecture 5 (PDF - 2.0MB)

6 “Victorian Sensation”—Chambers’ Vestiges

In the early 1840s, conservative opinion was scandalized by the publication of an anonymous bestseller championing an evolutionary view of nature, humankind and society. The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation blew the lid off establishment views; but who wrote it, and why?

Lecture 6 (PDF - 1.1MB)

7 Voyages of Exploration, Part I: Darwin

The key to almost all of Charles Darwin’s scientific work was his 5-year voyage around the world aboard the Beagle. In this lecture, we’ll look at some of the extraordinary experiences he had, at some of the unique specimens he collected, and at the first dim outlines of what would become his distinctive views on the origin of species.

Lecture 7 (PDF - 1.1MB)

8 Voyages of Exploration, Part II: Wallace and Bates

The story of Alfred Russel Wallace’s voyages of discovery is every bit as romantic as Darwin’s, though nothing like so well known. We’ll follow Wallace as he explores first the Amazon basin and then the islands of the Malay Archipelago, tracing his own very distinctive path to a theory uncannily similar to Darwin’s. (NB: We won’t ignore Bates either!)

Lecture 8 (PDF - 1.7MB)

9 The Path to The Origin of Species

Famously, Darwin waited almost 20 years before finally publishing his most famous discovery—the law of evolution by natural selection; and even then, he did so only under intense pressure to establish his own intellectual priority over Wallace. Why did he wait so long, and what was he doing in the long interlude between discovery and publication?

Lecture 9 (PDF - 4.0MB)

10 “Mr Darwin’s Hypotheses”

Darwin’s Origin of Species is one of the most influential books ever written. It begins quite unassumingly, with a discussion about domesticated varieties of pigeons; but in his autobiography, Darwin described his book as “one long argument”. What was the argument, and why was it so powerful?

Lecture 10 (PDF)

11 Guest Lecture: Andrew Berry

“The ‘Other Man’ of Evolution by Natural Selection” Dr Andrew Berry (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University) will consider what can be learnt by looking at Alfred Russel Wallace’s independent path to discovery of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

12 The Reception of Darwinism

The publication of the Origin provoked a very wide-ranging and intense debate. We shall review the principal positions adopted, finding that Darwin had some unlikely supporters and some almost equally unlikely critics. We shall also prepare the ground for organized debates of our own, in which individual students will play the parts of leading characters in the arguments about the Origin after 1859. These debates will take place in the discussion sections in week 13.

Lecture 12 (PDF - 2.6MB)

13 The “Gospel of Evolution” in the Late–19th Century

Darwin’s theory seized the imaginations of late-Victorians, and soon the idea of evolution was being applied to everything—from the fortunes of individuals, to the fate of empires. We will review the extraordinary range of views about the wider significance of evolution—in Britain, and in the United States, home to some of the most striking forms of “Social Darwinism” in the late–19th century.

Lecture 13 (PDF - 2.1MB)

14 Evolution and Eugenics Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton was inspired by his reading of the Origin of Species to take a lifelong interest in the role of inheritance in shaping human character. The chief result of this interest, the social philosophy of “Eugenics” (the term is Galton’s) was to inspire some of the most notorious misuses of evolutionary and biological ideas in the 20th century.
15 The “Eclipse of Darwinism” in Biology Around 1900

The Darwinists didn’t have things all their own way in the late–19th century; in fact, by around 1900 it was probably only a minority among professional biologists who still thought that Darwin and Wallace had essentially gotten things right in 1858. We shall review the reasons for what Bowler dubbed “The Eclipse of Darwinism” around 1900, paying particular attention to the technical problems that evolutionary theory faced in the absence of a satisfactory theory of biological inheritance.

Lecture 15 (PDF - 2.1MB)

16 The “Eclipse of Darwinism” in the Social Sciences After 1900 While fundamentalist Christians were busy rejecting Darwinian evolution in principle, large numbers of social scientists were busy rejecting the same theory as a suitable foundation for cultural anthropology, psychology and sociology. This move for intellectual autonomy in the social sciences left its mark on later 20th century debates about evolution and society.
17 Evolution and the Rise of Christian Fundamentalism The idea of evolution became fairly widely accepted in late–19th century America, even among Christian communities. However, after 1900 the emergence of populist “Fundamentalism” powered the first serious resistance to Darwin’s ideas since the early 1860s. The single most famous expression of this resistance was the notorious Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.
18 The Revival of Darwinism After 1900 Lecture 18 (PDF - 1.3MB)

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments