Last offered: Fall 2020
To wander about among a vegetation which is new to one is pleasant and instructive. It is the same with familiar plants as with other familiar objects: in the end we cease to think about them at all. But what is seeing without thinking? (Goethe, Italian Journey)
In an age of environmental destruction and outright murder of our biological brethren, there is something deeply troubling about humanity’s relationship with nature. Technology has left us with mere facsimiles of nature—pixilated abstractions of biodiversity through satellite imagery, decoded strings of DNA—and we, as a species, have become fundamentally disconnected from actual nature and the magnificent organisms with which we share the earth. In this seminar, we will work to understand and give agency to trees as individual organisms, literally rooted in the ground, and evolutionarily rooted in deep time.
OEB 204R – Pre-Darwinian Evolutionary Thought
The publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 marked a major turning point in the understanding and broad acceptance of a non-miraculous evolutionary explanation of biodiversity. Yet, Origin was by no means the first publication on the topic of descent with modification. For more than a century before Charles Darwin published Origin, evolutionary ideas were being advanced, discussed, and keenly debated. This seminar will explore the birth and early development of evolutionary thought between 1748 (Telliamed, Benoit de Maillet) and 1859 (Origin).
DES 3356 – Field Methods and Living Collections
Confronting the reality of environmental degradation requires more than remote sensing, statistical analysis or institutional restructuring. As images of the changing planet become emblematic of our time, designers are responding with a scrutiny towards amplified scales and extreme events. This has given rise to a growing interest in the materials or elements of this transformation, and in the particular category of evidence that can only be collected through first hand engagement.
Getting to Know Darwin
Last Offered: Fall 2017
This half-term, fall-term offering, freshman seminar incorporates reading selections from Darwin’s publications, as well as his private correspondence, and focuses close attention on the man behind the science as revealed by his writings. The goal is to introduce Darwin as an avid breeder of pigeons, lover of barnacles, devoted father and husband, gifted correspondent and tactician, and remarkable backyard scientist. Together, the class reproduces ten of Darwin’s classic Down House experiments and observations that were central to his case for natural selection and evolution. Learn more about Darwin’s experiments here.
*Note: Open to Freshmen only. Required field trips to the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and a local pigeon fancier will be included.
University of Colorado, Boulder
EBIO 4500: Plant Biodiversity and Evolution
The goal of this course is to understand plant diversity from an historical and phylogenetic perspective. Both neobotanical and paleobotanical data are brought to bear on the analysis of significant evolutionary events/processes in the history of photosynthetic life. Information from cell biology, morphology, life history theory, and development are all incorporated into the discussion of these most significant evolutionary events.
Concepts and information from lectures are applied to a hands-on set of laboratory sessions on plant diversity. Labs range from an examination of the diversity of cyanobacteria to the preparation and study of fossils from Carboniferous coal balls. The goal of every lab is to insure that students experience and interact with the actual data that are the basis for the interpretation of evolutionary history and diversification. Through a substantial and sustained investment of student lab fees, each student works with a state-of-the-art digital imaging station throughout the semester to record plant structure through the microscope.
Images created by EBIO 4500 students.
EBIO 4800/5800: Darwinian Revolution
For over a century before the publication of the On the Origin of Species, naturalists, theologians, atheists, horticulturalists, medical practitioners, poets, and philosophers advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life through descent with modification. The early intellectual history of evolutionism will be examined by reading and discussing the primary literature itself, as well as Darwin’s seminal work, On the Origin of Species.
EBIO 6000: Pre-Darwinian Evolutionism, a Graduate Seminar
In 2001, I initiated an annual reading group / graduate seminar on the topic of pre-Darwinian evolutionism. The first year, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin (and an early advocate of descent of all life from a common ancestor) was the focus of the group. In 2002, we met to discuss the life of Alfred Russel Wallace. In 2003, the evolutionary writings of Robert Chambers were carefully examined.