On 24 and 30 July 2014, Jim Costa will be delivering a paper on Wallace and Darwin entitled “Indefatigable Naturalists: Wallace and Darwin on the Evolutionary Trail” in both London and Oxford.
Here is the abstract:
Alfred Russel Wallace was the last of the great Victorian naturalists, and by the end of his long life in 1913 he was also one of the most famous scientists in the world, lauded by leading learned societies, British royalty and US Presidents alike. Against all odds—lacking wealth, formal education, social standing or connections—Wallace became the pre-eminent tropical naturalist of his day. He founded one entirely new discipline—evolutionary biogeography—and, with Darwin, co-founded another: evolutionary biology. Yet today Darwin’s name is universally recognised, while Wallace is all but unknown. Jim traces the independent development of Wallace’s and Darwin’s evolutionary insights, exploring the fascinating parallels, intersections and departures in their thinking.
Drawing on Wallace’s “Species Notebook” (the most important of Wallace’s field notebooks kept during his southeast Asian explorations of the 1850s) Costa puts Wallace’s thinking into a new light in relation to that of his more illustrious colleague. He also examines the ups and downs of Wallace’s relationship with Darwin, and critically evaluates the misleading “conspiracy theories” that Wallace was wronged by Darwin and his circle over credit for the discovery of natural selection. Tracing the arc of Wallace’s reputation from meteoric rise in the 19th century to virtual eclipse in the 20th, Costa restores Wallace to his proper place in the limelight with Darwin.
The numerous Vaccination Acts passed between 1840 and 1907 were innovations in every sense of the word. They heralded a new approach to the role of the state in the population’s health. They consolidated the new relationship between the state and medical science. They also ultimately brought forth a new term: ‘conscientious objector.’ For us—sitting in the comfort of the twenty-first century—this innovation was unquestionably a boon to humanity. Smallpox is all but eradicated. In this regard, state-directed schemes such as the Vaccination Acts were key vectors of this victory over one of the great scourges of humanity.
Nonetheless, a significant minority of the population vehemently opposed the Vaccination Acts. Their ranks did contain a number of cranks and charlatans. However, they also included well-respected scientific figures whose opposition was genuine and at least partly justified. One such figure was the co-discoverer of natural selection with Darwin: Alfred Russel Wallace.
This paper considers why Wallace was opposed to such an apparently beneficent procedure. He was no anti-science anti-innovator. Instead he provided a compelling critique of a scientific innovation we take for granted today. He questioned the virtue of state medicine. He questioned the growing power and unaccountability of the medical profession. He questioned their statistical evidence (in the process offering an innovative fully-statistical assessment of the value of a medical procedure).
What emerges is a genuine concern for what may be termed ‘medical ethics.’ This developed from Wallace’s broader belief—unusual at the time—that scientific innovation did not inherently represent a cut-and-dry case of ‘progress.’ Scientific innovations had to be weighed against deeper political, social and ethical considerations. This stance—controversial at the time—appears comparatively commonplace today. Wallace’s prescience reflects a mature and self-conscious appreciation of potential problems of scientific progress in regards to man.
Do you want to know more about Alfred Russel Wallace and his entomological collections? If so, you’re in luck.
The entomologist and Director of the Wallace Fund, Dr George Beccaloni, is to deliver a paper entitled: “Shedding new light on Alfred Russel Wallace’s insect specimens” in Cardiff on 25 June 2014. Here is the abstract:
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) is best known as being the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection and the ‘father’ of zoogeography, however, he was also one of the greatest collectors of tropical insects and other animals of the 19th century. Wallace collected specimens for his private collection and also on a commercial basis for four years in Brazil and eight years in South-East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and East Timor). During the latter expedition he shipped back almost 110,000 insects to the UK, many of which were species new to science. My talk will give an overview of the insect specimens Wallace collected and where they are now. I will also discuss how my study of his data labels and collecting notebooks (recently digitised as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project) has shed new light on where and when the specimens were collected, adding much to their scientific value.
There is a talk being given in Croydon on 26 June 2014 by Prof. David Stack on the University of Reading on “Alfred Russel Wallace as Social Reformer”. The abstract reads:
South Croydonian Alfred Russel Wallace developed a theory of evolution but was beaten into print by Charles Darwin. As well as a leading scientist he was an active social reformer on issues like land nationalisation and anti-smallpox vaccination. Prof. Stack will discuss Wallace as social reformer.
Wallace lived in Croydon from March 1878 to 5 May 1881, first on Duppas Hill Lane and then St Peter’s Road. During this period he developed his interest in Land Nationalisation and co-founded and was the inaugural president of the Land Nationalisation Society. (more…)
If anyone is in or around Cardiff on 10 June there is an interesting talk on “Wallace, Darwin and human evolution” taking place at Cardiff University in the Wallace Lecture theatre from 6.30pm.
I saw a paper delivered on much the same subject by Chris Stringer, who works at the Natural History Museum in London, at the Royal Society late last year and it was very interesting.
I am still waiting to get the time to finally start and finish his Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain which has been on my reading list for about a year. It was well received at the time winning the Best Archaeology Book Award and Kistler Book Award in 2008. Certainly, the opening chapters I have read were very interesting and well written. But I will have to reserve judgement on the bulk of the book for now.
If anyone does get to go–unfortunately I will be in London delivering a paper myself–please do tell me what he had to say and what you thought.
Later this week there will be a talk by Professor David Stack of the University of Reading–which I will be chairing–on the philosopher John Stuart Mill and his posthumous reputation.
David Stack has previously done a great deal of work on the interaction between British politics and ideas and science including–most strikingly for me–a work on the The First Darwinian Left: Socialism and Darwinism 1859-1914. This included an excellent chapter on Alfred Russel Wallace and the relationship between his evolutionism and socialism. Well worth a read.
*David also published a shorter article on “The First Darwinian Left: Radical and Socialist Responses to Darwin, 1859-1914″in the journal, History of Political Thought, vol. 21, no. 4 (2000), which includes a section on Wallace on pp. 690-694.