Month: November 2011

Professor Kevin Boyle’s career honoured with Memorial Lecture by Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex

The University of Essex’s superb Human Rights Centre along with their School of Law is to honour Professor Kevin Boyle who passed away on 25 December 2010. The event – which is open to all – will take place on Saturday 26 November at the Ivor Crewe Auditorium at the Colchester Campus of the university starting at 9.30am and finishing at 6.30pm.
Professor Kevin Boyle. Photo from The Guardian.
‘The event,’ explained the Human Rights Centre, ‘pays tribute to his legacy in all these areas by focusing on those fields of human rights that were of special importance to him, such as freedom of expression and religion, minority rights, democracy and human rights, and states of emergency.
In my role as one of the Assistant Editors for the Essex Human Rights Review journal I was lucky enough to get to read and edit a book review by Professor Boyle. Sadly, his entry in that volume was the last of his contributions to the journal.
Professor Boyle had been instrumental in the founding of the journal and served on the Review’s advisory board from its inception and his support was unwaning. He was also important in the continued success of the multi-disciplinary Human Rights Centre of which he was director from 1990 to 2003. He had been Professor of Law at the University of Essex since the previous year.
As well as his academic and legal pursuits (which included founding the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway), Boyle was an effective, intelligent and vocal activist. In the late 1980s he became the founding director of Article 19 ‘a human rights organisation dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide’ (Rodley, 2011). In this role, he initiated a high profile campaign regarding the controversy surrounding the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988). Furthermore, in the 1990s he took up the cause of the Kurdish villagers being savagely treated by the Turkish state. However, this was just a small snippet of his noteworthy and often vital activities.
The keynote speaker for the Memorial Conference will be Mary Robinson who, as well as being the former President of Ireland (1990-97), was also UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002) during which time she requested Professor Boyle to join her in Geneva as senior advisor and speech writer.
For those unable to get to the event itself, happily you will be able to watch a live stream via ustream. You will also be able to follow the progress on Twitter with the #kevinmemorial hashtag.


Alfred Russel Wallace goes all ‘Pop Art’

For those who know anything about the diverse (and often controversial) thinking of Alfred Russel Wallace will know that often he was very forward thinking from the point of view of modern eyes.

As well as co-discovering the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin and helping develop the field of biogeography he supported, amongst other things, conservationism and sustainability, ‘equality of opportunities’ for all and vegetarianism. He was often a pioneer with concerns which are remarkably contemporary including his writings on the possibility of life on Mars which, as Professor Charles H. Smith notes, is now seen as one of the ‘pioneer works in the field of exobiology’ (although whether he realised that less than 100 years after his death that simulations were being run to travel to the far-flung planet).

It was thinking about this ‘modern’ side of Wallace when I realised that very few pictures reveal this potential relevancy of Wallace.Victorian and Edwardian photographs always, quite naturally, look rather dated and often rather stuffy. More often than not, this misses the colour and vitality of Wallace’s long life and work.

If a picture paints a thousand words, I thought, maybe I should have a go at translating this for a modern audience. I thus set about bringing a portrait of Wallace up to date and. hopefully, make it more eye-catching to those I talk to in regards to Wallace.

Alfred Russel Wallace: the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection

I thus had a go at creating a ‘Pop Art’ image of Wallace using as my template one of my favourite images of Wallace. Although this style of image has been used very often (almost to the extent of becoming a cliche) I thought the end result was more than good enough for starters. Please do tell me what you think.

    Letters between Wallace and the Australian conchologist, Charles Hedley, published by Australian Museum

    Originally published in a shortened form on the Wallace Fund website.

    The Australian Museum based in Sydney has put electronic copies of two letters from AR Wallace to the highly respected conchologist, Charles Hedley, on their website.

    The letters, one from July and the other from October 1892, are in response to letters and papers that Charles Hedley delivered to Wallace at his home in Parkstone, Dorset.

    One of the letters between Wallace and Hedley talking about Wallace’s work ‘Island Life’

    The reference in the later letter of October 1892 regarding the enclosure on the Placostylus (a type of air-breathing land snail) as well as the debate surrounding the ‘land-connection’ between New Zealand and Australia makes it highly likely that the enclosure was Hedley’s ‘The Range of Placostylus; a study in ancient geography’ as Hedley refers to Wallace’s Island Life work and the fact that ‘Australia and New Zealand were formerly connected by a bridge of dry land’ within it (pp. 336-7). Wallace also references his The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876) within the letter. ‘In the second of these letters,’ explained Vanessa Finney, the Manager of Archives and Records at the Museum on their blog, ‘Wallace hotly disputes Hedley’s theory of the range and distribution of [Placostylus].’

    The earlier letter from July 1892 is harder to pin-point in regards to which paper Wallace is referencing. Nonetheless, Vanessa Finney clarifies that this letter refers to Hedley’s recently published ‘The Land Molluscan Fauna of British New Guinea.’ Wallace also believes that Hedley’s work ‘agrees, to some extent, with my theory of the cause of the diversity of the flora & fauna of West & East Australia, as given in my Island Life [published in 1881].’

    In this letter Wallace also mentions the orchids Hedley encountered and expressed a desire to have some samples of the plant as he was ‘pretty interested’ in this field. He certainly was, and even built an Orchid House at his home in Parkstone, Dorset in the mid-1890s. Unfortunately, the constant attention and intense heat required for these delicate flowers were too much for him and he had to give them up. However, he never lost his passion for these superb flora. 
    Interestingly, Hedley later published another article in 1893, ‘On the Relation of the Fauna and Flora of Australia to Those of New Zealand’, which may have taken on board some of Wallace’s comments. A quick scan of this article reveals that Hedley once again mentions Wallace’s theory expounded in Island Life and refers again to the ‘profusion of epiphytic orchids’ (p. 189).
    Charles Hedley (1862-1926) was, at this time, Assistant in Zoology at the Australian Museum as well as being a Fellow of the Linnean Society in London and New South Wales. Hedley was originally born in Yorkshire and was largely educated in France. However, he moved to New Zealand in 1881, moving onto Queensland in late 1882. 
    As Denis Fairfax’s entry for Hedley in the Australian Dictionary of Biography explained, ‘Typical of self-taught nineteenth-century naturalists, Hedley wrote confidently on botany, ethnology and general natural history, as well as conchology.’ Clearly, although not quite as broad an array of interests as Wallace displayed throughout his long life, the two had much ground of common interest over which to debate. It would seem that these letters show a fascinating snippet of this debate.
    PS: If any readers discover a digital edition of Hedley’s ‘The Land Molluscan Fauna of British New Guinea’ article that can be linked in this entry, it would be much appreciated.