Haley Andonian

Origins Lecture Series

“The Origin of the Origin

Janet Browne


I was fortunate enough to experience the wisdom of Dr. Janet Browne in a variety of different settings over the course of her visit to Colby last week.  In each setting, she proved to be extremely intelligent and insightful in unique ways, and I believe I strongly benefitted from her presence in my STS senior thesis course, in the Origins lecture series, and in my introductory ecology course.

Although she specializes in the history of Darwin, Dr. Browne was a very helpful person to bounce ideas off of for my senior thesis, which will focus on the history of human experimentation in the United States.  She is very familiar with the history of medicine, and her excitement about my topic was very reassuring given this familiarity.  She is very enthusiastic about history and science and her enthusiasm made me excited to pursue my topic.

Dr. Browne also attended my introductory ecology class, where she integrated her knowledge on the history of Darwin with the history of ecological concepts.  One of the good points she made was that, throughout history, as with Darwin and with the history of ecology, new concepts and discoveries that change people’s perspectives on how the world work are always controversial at first.  Darwin’s theories of evolution were extremely controversial, especially since they contradicted long held religious beliefs, and thus took a long time to become accepted.  This comment that Dr. Browne made reminded me of the conversation on paradigm shifts that Thomas Kuhn introduces in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”  By making this statement, she provides a great example of a paradigm shift and the challenges associated with accepting the new paradigm.

Finally, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Browne lecture during the Origins lecture series.  In this lecture, Dr. Browne discussed the origins of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  This piece of literature marks a very pivotal time due to the way in which Darwin redefined origins.  In his work, he presents a completely new theory of where humans come from that totally contradicts religious beliefs.  Instead of man being created from God, Darwin suggests rather that man descended from apes.  This change in the origin story, backed up by detailed scientific observations, completely shocked the world and altered people’s views of where they come from.

Darwin’s theory of evolution likely had such a large impact on society and was so controversial because of the fact that it messed with people’s idea of their origins.  Origins are so crucial to one’s identity and sense of self, and so to suggest that people originated from other species rather than from a divine power completely changed people’s conceptions of themselves and their history.

Overall, I found Dr. Browne’s comments on Darwin, the history of medicine, and the concept of origins very insightful and beneficial to our continuing conversation on origins.  She did a great job of connecting Darwin’s history to his work and our humanities topic, and I found her to be a very intriguing person to meet, speak to, and hear from.