Though evolutionary thought long preceded the work of Charles Darwin, it is undeniable that Darwin's work, beginning with On The Origin of Species (1859) had immense impact and required everyone, from philosophers and social reformers to writers and physicians, to rethink the role and the responsibility of humanity in the context of an unforgiving natural world. The impact was as rich and various as it was profound, raising fundamental questions about who we are as a species, how special we are, why we "do good," why we fall in love, what freedom we have, what cosmological narrative (if any) we inhabit, and what control we have over our lives and the course of national and global history.
This course will be devoted to studying the development of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, its basic structure and arguments, and its relation to Victorian thought and culture. It will focus on the tradition out of which (and against which) Darwin's theories emerged, on the conditions that made them possible (intellectual and societal), and on scientific, social, and literary responses to those theories. Readings will include excerpts of scientific argument, as well as literature by Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and others. Course requirements include two essays, a presentation, and a final exam, in addition to lively participation and regular attendance.