The Evolution Debates: Assignment on a Review of The Origin of Species

Your first substantial writing assignment will be a paper in which you develop your own analysis of a review of The Origin of Species.

You should begin by picking a specific review. You can find many at Darwin Online, and more in the book Darwin and His Critics by David L. Hull (1973), which is on reserve at Leavey Library’s circulation desk. You can also find reviews by searching HathiTrust, Google Books, and other databases, since they include some periodicals even though their focus is on books. You should probably pick a review that was published within a few years after the publication of the Origin itself (in 1859), or from a bit later if it was published outside the United Kingdom (since the Origin itself was published later in other parts of the world), but if you’re interested in one from much later we can talk about whether it makes sense for this assignment.

Your task will then be to contextualize the review in the life of its author, with attention to their other scientific, religious, political, and philosophical interests and commitments, and in the editorial agenda of the publication in which it appears. You should present an explicit argument which makes some link between the reviewer’s evaluation of the Origin and at least one of these other aspects of their life—you might argue, for example, that someone’s conservative politics led them to be skeptical of an ideology of progress associated with evolutionism. I expect you to describe (and possibly quote from) the review enough so that I can follow your argument if I haven’t seen it, but not so much that summary crowds your argument out of your paper.

Your essay should be five pages long, plus or minus a page. You should cite your sources (including the review itself), but you don’t have to use any particular citation style as long as you’re consistent throughout the paper. You’re welcome to use Wikipedia and other casual online sources as starting places to find more formal sources (journal articles, books, museum and academic websites, etc.), but please do not treat Wikipedia itself as an authority. You may however, use scholarly encyclopedias like the Dictionary of Scientific Biography as authorities, and may find them extremely useful for this assignment.

Your paper is due on Friday, February 10. I’m happy to discuss your ideas with you in the meantime, both in class and during office hours. Please let me know if you have any questions about this assignment.