Much of modern biology is rooted in the insights of a series of 18th and 19th-century naturalist-scientist-explorers who built upon extensive and inspired observation, sometimes in the course of travels in (then) remote and challenging parts of the world. Their writings often took the form of journals interlarded with theoretical speculation, and achieved great popularity among a readership reaching well beyond their scientist/naturalist peers. Charles Darwin was undoubtedly the most important of these formative thinkers (arguably one of the most important thinkers of the 19th century, period), and his books were popular best-sellers.
We will read works by Darwin and several of his predecessors, peers, and successors (potentially including, Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Walter Bates, Thomas Belt, John and William Bartram, John Wesley Powell…). Students will be expected to reflect on these writers and their writing in terms of how they represent scientific thought of their time, how such thought compares with modern approaches to science, and how our current understanding and approaches to the same questions have changed (or not). There will be a lot of reading and a fair amount of writing. Students should have some background in natural science, but perspectives drawn from study in literature, history, and other disciplines will be welcome.