Evaluation of the Darwin Project

Myrna Chase, Professor of History

The Darwin Project at Baruch College informed my teaching in several ways:

First, as a historian of ideas whose specialty (including publications) is 19th century England and France, I was especially interested in Darwin's ideas and in the extensive influence of the classical economists and romantics upon his constructions. I enjoyed returning to the sources and to some work from graduate school with Gertrude Himmelfarb whose work was influential in the 1950s in rekindling interest in Darwin outside of narrow Darwiniana. I liked observing the ups and downs of research on Darwin and Social Darwinism across the last fifty years -- an historiographical issue with a symbiotic relationship to the study of Marx and its ups and downs in the last fifty years. As a scholar it was refreshing to see the many cliches about Social Darwinism, its influence in European thought and even in American thought and society being critically examined by a younger generation of intellectual historians. It was also interesting to pursue the variations on Darwin from England and the US where the impact was considerable to Germany and France where it was much less than generally imagined. Once again the professional historian shudders at the cliches repeated in survey texts to our nation's undergraduates. I learned from the seminar and from my readings for the seminar much more about anthropology and archaeology. I believe as a teacher I am better prepared for pre-history than I was before, and I am quite happy about that.

Second, as a teacher I had always included Darwin in intellectual history of the 19th and 20th century as well as in the general survey course. I believe I became more sensitive to the many ways students understand evolution and the double lives they lead shifting back and forth between what they know is accepted in the context of the university and what they actually believe.

Third, it was interesting to share with colleagues their various interests in Darwin. I was particularly impressed with Bill Earle's discussion of the methodology of science, with my colleague Bert Hansen's comments and clarifications throughout the seminar, and with some presentations in literature.

Fourth, unfortunately the seminar did not have enough time to pursue some interesting scientific interpretations. As a layman I would have benefitted from that in the sense that I might have gained a better picture of issues of evolution as they play out in current discussions separate from race and IQ, which caught everyone's attention. My reading since the seminar includes more science. I recently enjoyed Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel which talks about some big questions in an evolutionary and popular way.

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Last updated 12 August 1998 (MC/JHW)