Bleg: Any good material on evolution and the media 1880-1980?

I’ve got a request for the Loom’s hive mind. I’ve been asked to contribute a book chapter to a guide to evolutionary biology. The subject of my assignment is evolution and the media. I’ve already covered some of this territory in a 2010 review I wrote for the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach (pdf), but I’d like to flesh it out a bit. I’m familiar with the past thirty years of the subject from my own experience, and I’m familiar with Darwin’s reception in his own lifetime, thanks to all the scholarship that’s been produced about that period. But the century or so in between is a lot sketchier for me. The Scopes Monkey trial comes to mind, of course, but not a lot else. My search of the history-of-science literature has yielded little, probably because I’m not using the right search terms. If anybody has any pointers, I’d be most grateful (and will, of course, thank you in the acknowledgments). Thanks!

16 thoughts on “Bleg: Any good material on evolution and the media 1880-1980?

  1. Hi Carl! I’ve got some good stuff on this in the office, including a chart of mentions of creationism in Science Magazine throughout its history. You can see the spikes in the 1920s, 1980s, etc. I don’t remember the ref but email me on Monday & I will look it up:

    [CZ: Will do!]

  2. I would suggest doing an advanced search in WorldCat using “evolution” as a subject term and “bibliography” as a genre/form term. I tried this and found a number of useful bibliographies on the discourse surrounding evolution during the time frame you suggested.

  3. People don’t like to talk about it, but eugenics, which drew on evolutionary ideas , was quite widely discussed (and to some degree implemented) right in the middle of your chosen period.

  4. Check out Google Books. It will generally give you only snippets if copyright still applies, but it can be very useful.

    Evolution By Brooklyn Ethical Association (1889), for example, is available as a free download.

  5. Will you be getting into the early eugenics movement at all? That was considered synonymous with evolution in the bad old days when the eugenicists were riding high. Only fitting since it was Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who started the movement.

    Then again, evolution made for compelling marketing copy in promoting freak show acts like Krao the Monkey Girl and Jo Jo the Dog-faced Boy.

  6. You may wish to check out the little-known reception of Darwinism in Russia, and the theory of mutual aid that sprung therefrom. Daniel Todes’ paper (1987) serves as a good introduction, to illustrate the importance of cultural context in interpreting the theory of evolution. [Darwin’s Malthusian metaphor and Russian evolutionary thought, 1859-1917. Isis 78 537-551]. I have access to a PDF of the article if you should be interested.

    You may want to look into the media reception of the New Synthesis of the 1930’s through the 1950’s, initiating the birth of new “Darwinism” attempting to tease out the roots to human behaviour, giving rise to “evolutionary” ethology, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology, etc. I suspect many of those new applications made quite a stir in the 70’s. (They still do!)

    Similarly, in the early 1900’s there was debate on the power of “military selection”. However, I only know of Kellogg’s 1913 inquiry into the subject… [Eugenics and Militarism. The Atlantic Monthly 112: 99-108.] I have a PDF of that article too.

    There’s also this initiative by Google that plots the frequency of words in the works they have digitalised thus far. “Evolution” does a mild dip in the 1920’s and makes quite a dip in the 1940’s, not recovering until the 1960’s and beyond. Maybe you’d be interested in looking into that as well…

    Those are the ones I can think of on top of my head; maybe they’re not even relevant to your pursuit, but anyhow; I have pointed you in the direction I know of. With it you may do as you please. c:

    Good luck with everything!

  7. I’m guessing Eugenie Scott would know quite a bit about this. A Google search of “history of the public understanding of (evolution OR biology)” yields this Cambridge prof who is “concerned with the history and public understanding of evolution”. Peter Medawar’s writings could also be useful.

  8. Try the books:

    Trial and error: The American controversy over creation and evolution – by EJ Larson – 2003

    The creation-evolution controversy- by RL Wysong – 1976

    Evolution and theology: the problem of man’s origin – by EC Messenger – 1931 – Burns Oates and Washbourne

    One you probably know about:

    Darwin and the general reader: the reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the British periodical press, 1859-1872 – by A Ellegård – 1990

  9. Carl,

    Off-topic, but worrisome:

    At your blog, and also at Cosmic Variance (another Discover magazine blog), a fake virus scan begins to load when readers click to view the site. You may want to check up on this, as it is bound to affect your readership negatively. I use a Macbook Pro, and so was surprised to see the malware pop up and start loading.

    [CZ: Worrisome indeed. I’ve seen this, too, and I’m notifying the Hive Overmind (a k a a guy named Amos)]

  10. You rang?

    We’re working on the ad/malware issue right now; will fix it ASAP.

  11. OK, looks like that problem’s fixed now. Sorry for the trouble. If you still see anything wrong, email azeeberg discovermagazine com or tweet me @DiscoverMag.

  12. Visual representations of evolutionary ideas, for popular audiences: this would be a great angle to include in your piece. SJ Gould, obviously; but see also the book ” God—or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age.” by Constance Areson Clark. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

  13. I was going to suggest God-or Gorilla, too. And an article by Constance Clark (pdf):

    Two articles by Betty Smocovitis might be of interest:

    One by Janet Browne:

    Peter Bowler’s books The Non-Darwinian Revolution: Reinterpretation of a Historical Myth and he Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the Decades around 1900 are in your time period

  14. Hi Carl,

    late, but maybe still useful:
    You may be interested in the work of Ernst Haeckel, who was the earliest proponent of Darwinian ideas and evolution in Germany. He did throw in his own ideas (and didn’t always get it right) and his work did get used and abused in the eugenics movement. But he was a great popularizer (if that’s the word?) and his drawings and illustrations have probably done much more for the public understanding of evolution at the time than much of what he has written.
    He must have been quite a character, too…

    Try wikipedia for a quick entry and a peek at his illustrations
    For more information you may want to contact the Phyletisches Museum at Jena University

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