Integrative Biology

Integrative Biology

Integrative Biology, with its interdisciplinary yet evolution-centered approach to the life sciences, is a very versatile concentration. Houghton’s archive is a treasure trove for a science concentration so dependent on the history of the field and on history itself. Moreover, Integrative Biology’s heavy emphasis on ecology and organismal interactions makes the library’s archive even more suited to concentrators.

First and foremost, Houghton owns a variety of materials related to the history of the  theory of evolution. The library holds items by celebrated figures, such as a 1764 edition of one of Carl von Linnaeus’ treatises describing the natural world (7605.50.15*, 005225334); Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Naturalist journal (MS Am 1280H [99], 008290191), which contains the famous writer’s observations about multiple scientific fields, including zoology, conchology, botany, osteology, and ornithology; and a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (HEW 2.3.4, 005027133), as well as a manuscript draft of one of the volume’s pages (MS Eng 1214, 009371370).

Evolution, however, has never ceased to be a polemical topic in the scientific world, and some of the more modern arguments surrounding the issue can be found in the papers of W. V. Quine (MS Am 2587, 008937558), a former Harvard professor and on one of the twentieth century’s most important philosophers. Quine corresponded with Clive Entwistle (333), an architect that held interesting views about Darwin and his theories, which are reflected in the archives. However, the most fascinating discussions of evolution, which are heavily connected to philosophy, are mostly part of Quine’s academic paper collection. D. C. Dennett’s What Evolutionary Good is God? (1626) and Evolution, Error, and Intentionality (1628), as well as Elliott Sober’s Revisability, a Priori Truth, and Evolution (2213), are all engrossing essays on the matter, and Dennett’s reply to H. Allen Orr’s review of one of his works about evolution (1641) is also gripping in its very philosophical treatment of the theory.

Houghton’s collection of materials connected to ecology and biodiversity is also rich and riveting to explore. It includes Rachel Carson’s editorial correspondence with the Houghton Mifflin Company (MS Am 2105 [42], 006401474), as well as newspaper clippings on the psychology of animals collected by William James (WJ 577.53.1, 012182336). However, it also contains plenty of beautifully illustrated material that Integrative Biology concentrators, whichever their specialty area, must check out. One of them is, in fact, one of the most peculiar items in the entire Houghton collection: Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Typ 732.05.567, 002860975), an eighteenth-century Dutch entomology treatise, written in the vernacular in an age when Latin was still the international scientific language, by a woman. The drawings of birds and insects, colored by hand by the author and her daughters, are works of art in themselves. Students coming to Houghton can also access the notes and drawings of John Abbot (MS Typ 426-426.5, 000602404), a British-turned-American scientific illustrator; they contain more than 600 of his watercolors. Finally, they can see an ornithological classic: the gigantic edition of Audubon’s Birds of America (*AC8.Au292.827b, 004352714), another scientific and artistic masterpiece.

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