I rarely critique lecturers in this post. In fact, I never have. Yet, something about this past lecture rubbed me the wrong way. Please, don’t mistake this note to be a criticism on Janet Browne herself. She is clearly the authority on Darwin and his corpus of books, essays, and letters. That being said, I didn’t feel as though the lecture truly fit the ethos of ‘Science-Technology-Society’. That is to say, I didn’t feel as though this lecture entertained the interdisciplinary nature of the STS department. This post, likewise, is a response to the material on hand — not framed in an interdisciplinary context.
After reading the vast majority of Janet Browne’s Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography, I was truly impressed with her breadth of included information. As a student in American schools studying biology, I learned about Darwin’s overarching studies and his underlying impact in biology. I had not, however, learned of his upbringing, studies, and marital life; both of which I feel greatly impact his research. More specifically, I feel that his inner battles with religion, coming from a religious family, may have impeded his self-awareness as an evolutionist. That being said, his brief stint in medical school brought his closer to science and biology. All in all, Browne’s approach to big history is refreshing and quite eye-opening.
As for Darwin himself: I do also find a great amount of interest in the causational relationship Darwin had on the eugenics movement. Specifically, I am intrigued by the nature of the purely observational science conducted at this time. Findings were simply observations grounded in truth, and so ‘genetics’ at that time was more a game of probability than biology. Therefore, it’s understandable that a great many individuals believe that the government could filter out genetic traits via selective breeding. Of course, this form of observational science has a great many number of faults, and it wasn’t for another one hundred years until scientists could fully discern behavioral qualities from genetic qualities — nature vs. nurture. Whether it be racism or simply ignorant, innocent aspirations, eugenics can be traced back to Darwin and his rooftop pigeon experiments.
I truly wish we could have further discussed the relationship between Charles Darwin and the ‘Origins’ lecture series theme: ‘order and chaos’. I believe that such an influential individual has left such an astounding impact on society, and it’s a shame we missed the opportunity to discuss this in great detail. If you’re looking for a great conclusion in this post, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one. That being said, I find it quite interesting that he reappears again in the Chris Gavaler lecture on the ‘Origins of Superheroes’ in the context of eugenics. Perhaps that’s something to note, but I think we can say without a shadow of a doubt that Darwin’s influence reached across more disciplines than he is given credit for.