Suggested paper topics for

Feit Seminar on Darwin and Darwinism


These are suggestions offered as guidance. If you select one of these topics, please discuss your proposed paper content with the faculty members. Please do not hesitate to suggest an additional topic or topics that interest you especially and discuss proposed content with the faculty.

Susan Tenenbaum



Lochner v. New York
Hammer v. Dagenhart
social darwinism and free market theory
Epperson v. Arkansasteaching evolution

e.g. Specific thinkers
Examine the role of the state as it relates to the &auot;struggle for existence&auot; in the work of William Graham Sumner, the foremost American proponent of social darwinism.

BROAD-GAUGE: Explore a Darwinian theme
e.g. The notion of "degeneration" and social death (operating within the terms of Darwinian evolutionary theory) emerged to oppose the idea of progress in the late Victorian era. This language of degeneration came to inform policy areas as diverse as criminal justice and immigration law. Discuss the theme of degeneration as it has impacted on one such issue area.

John H. Wahlert

  • Charles Lyell's changing views about Darwin's proposed origin of species by natural selection. This topic would require some investigation of Lyell's geological concepts.
  • The evidence for evolution by natural selection that has been discovered after Darwin's initial publication of the Origin of Species, e.g., discovery of the principles of inheritance. You could take an overview or present a very detailed case in one particular area.
  • Modifications to and modernization's of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. You could take an overview or trace developments in one particular area, e.g., punctuated equilibria.
  • Was Malthus correct? A look at human population growth and human ecology. Is humanity limited by the same kinds of natural constraints that have driven evolution of the organic world over its temporal history?
  • Is humanity still subject to the law of evolution by natural selection?

Gary Hentzi

  • Write an analysis of Darwin's rhetoric in the chapters you have read from On the Origin of Species. How would you describe his style? What metaphors does he employ, and how do they serve to color his argument? Does he project a persona in his writing? How would you characterize this persona? In what sense can the theory of evolution be considered a poetic conceit?
  • Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H. is about, among other things, the relationship between personal loss and the loss of certainty with respect to traditional conceptions of the world. How does Tennyson represent this relationship, and how does he negotiate the crisis that it involves? Be sure that your discussion of this topic makes reference to specific passages.
  • Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H. and Chapter five of Edmund Gosse's Father and Son both employ the autobiographical mode to reflect on the relationship between scientific discovery and religious faith. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast these two works in relation to this theme.
  • In Howards End, E. M. Forster writes: "Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die." Explain this passage and its relationship to the novel as a whole. How does it differ from Helen Schlegel's remark that Henry Wilcox is "one of those men who have reconciled science with religion"?
  • Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" is a parable about the seductiveness of power that also takes up the theme of racial difference. Write an analysis of this story in which you explore the relationship between these two issues.

Books on Reserve:

  • Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origin of Species. Harvard Univ. Pr. (facsimile of 1st edition)
  • Young, David. 1992. The Discovery of Evolution. Cambridge Univ. Pr.
  • Porter, D. M., And P. W. Graham. 1993. The Portable Darwin. Penguin Books.
  • Williams, L. Pearce. 1978. Album of Science: The Nineteenth Century. Scribners.

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Last updated 30 December 1998 (JHW)