Drawing on Darwin: Evolutionary History and the Use of Science in History

Edmund Russell, Monday, February 13, 2012

4:30 pm, Porter Hall 100 (Gregg Hall)

Science offers powerful ideas that can help historians understand the past, but few historians have taken advantage of them. This talk describes some promise and pitfalls of synthesizing history and science. It will discuss evolutionary history as a young field of history that examines the impact of human beings on the evolution of populations of other species and vice versa. To illustrate the potential for evolutionary history to offer new understandings of well studied episodes, I will show how explain how New World cotton species and Amerindians created the opportunity for mechanization of the cotton textile industry in the Industrial Revolution. I will also discuss neurohistory, the nascent field that draws on neuroscience to understand history. To demonstrate the potential for history in general, and neurohistory in particular, to be an experimental discipline, I will present results from the first functional magnetic resonance imaging study of healing environments (medical facilities designed to enhance healing by incorporating windows, gardens, sunlight, etc.).

About Edmund Russell

Edmund Russell is a professor in the department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia, with a joint appointment in the History department. His research and teaching focus on environmental history, especially as it intersects the history of science and technology. He is the author of War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring (Cambridge, 2001) and Evolutionary History: Uniting History and Biology to Understand Life on Earth (Cambridge, 2011). He is co-editor of Natural Enemy, Natural Ally: Toward an Environmental History of War (Oregon State, 2004). His books and articles have won prizes from the American Society for Environmental History, the Society for the History of Technology, and the Forum for the History of Science in America. His current research focuses on the impact of human beings on the evolution of populations of other species, and on the potential for neuroscience to deepen our understanding of the past.

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The University Lecture Series is a partnership between the Office of the Vice Provost for Education and the Division of Student Affairs. All lectures are free and open to the public. For additional information, please call 412-268-2084. All lectures are on Carnegie Mellon’s Oakland campus.

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