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Week 12: The origins of evolution, 1760-1900. Life.

Lecture slides and handout.

In the Victorian age, science and religion came together in new debates about the origin of life. This lecture explores the complex and controversial history of evolutionary theory, from radical France to the Ottoman Empire. We also examine how Darwin’s theory could be used to reinforce and challenge gender stereotypes, as well as the crucial role that women played in the development and circulation of evolution across the world.

Seminar Questions

  • How original was Charles Darwin?
  • What was the most important factor in the formation of Darwin’s theory?
  • What was controversial about evolution?
  • Compare and contrast the reception of evolution around the world.

Essential Readings
Young, Robert, Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), chapters 1 and 2, pp. 1-55

Secord, James, ‘Global Darwin’, in William Brown and Andrew Fabian (eds), Darwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Online Resources

Darwin Correspondence Project (searchable database of over 9,000 letters)

Additional Readings
Alexander, Denis and Ronald Numbers (eds), Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Bowler, Peter, Evolution: The History of an Idea (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003)

Brown, Mackenzie, Hindu Perspective on Evolution: Darwin, Dharma and Design (London: Routledge, 2012)

Browne, Janet, Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography (London: Atlantic Books, 2006)

Conlin, Jonathan, Evolution and the Victorians (London: Bloomsbury, 2014)

Desmond, Adrian, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine and Reform in Radical London (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989)

Elshakry, Marwa, Reading Darwin in Arabic (Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Glick, Thomas (ed.), The Comparative Reception of Darwinism (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1974)

Gregory Radick and Jonathan Hodge (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Lightman, Bernard (ed.), Evolution and Victorian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Pusey, James, China and Charles Darwin (Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983)

Secord, James, Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000)

Todes, Daniel, Darwin without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)