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ESF 22A: Confronting the Diversity of Life: The Emergence of Evolution from Exploration

The class will approach the travel writings of early modern scientists who used exposure to the tropics to establish the foundations of evolutionary biology. These first generations of scientists both had to learn from each other and make it up as they went along. Humboldt's travels from 1799-1804 were an inspiration for Darwin's travels in the 1830s. Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle inspired Wallace and Bates to go to the Amazon a generation later. None of them were far removed from being students themselves: Darwin, Wallace, and Bates were all in their early 20s when starting out and Humboldt was an old man of 29. Their writings capture the excitement of their youth, their scientific idealism, and the breadth and depth of their interest in the natural world. We can explore the history of the science and the modern updating of that science. There is also taking advantage of being exposed to new horizons, the importance of a rigorous curiosity in life, the recognition of unique opportunity. A newly emerging framework of geologic time allowed understanding of evolutionary processes but only in conjunction with the possibility of global travel and experience of both temperate and tropical biota-travel dependent on the colonial infrastructure built up by Spain and Portugal over the previous centuries and unraveling in the early 1800s. The travel writings capture young scientists working out the founding of their own scientific disciplines and the sacrifices and dedication that required, all in the context of a time when unique new connections could first have been made. The writings of these young scientists also capture the costs, both environmental and human, underlying their educational opportunities. We will have a chance to consider the blind spots among those that considered themselves unbiased scientific observers, the unintended consequences, and their roles and culpabilities within the colonial systems that made their work possible. The infrastructural capacity to observe tropical forests unavoidably also meant the degradation of those environments. Loss can be seen over the course of individual travel books and has only accelerated since one of Wallace's most remote locales is now an amusement water park, complete with YouTube videos.
Terms: Aut | Units: 7 | UG Reqs: College, THINK, Writing 1
Instructors: ; Boyce, C. (PI)
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