Human Evolutionary Biology

Human Evolutionary Biology

Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection is perhaps the most polemical scientific postulate in human history. The ramifications of his civilization-changing work have left the realm of biology and bled through to other sciences and Harvard concentrations, most notably Integrative Biology, and even the social sciences and the humanities, especially Philosophy and Religion. That Human Evolutionary Biology is a concentration on its own right attests to the power of Darwin’s theory and its consequences for our origin as a species. HEB concentrators are mainly focused on the biological aspect of evolution and its impact on Homo sapiens, but the fact that the concentration can also be pursued through the Mind, Brain, and Behavior initiative attests to the interdisciplinary importance of the theory of evolution. Houghton’s collection pertaining to Human Evolutionary Biology reflects that multidisciplinary aspect of the subject; in fact, many of the items shortlisted belong to the W. V. Quine papers (MS Am 2587, 008937558) and link evolution to philosophy and other disciplines.

Before reaching Quine, however, it is important to note that Houghton does own material directly related to Darwin. In fact, the library is the proud owner of the John Murray 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (*EC85 D2593 859o, 005027133), the long title of one of the most influential books in human history. Though students have access to the text online at any time, coming into contact with the physical copy of such a pivotal volume is an experience to treasure. Even more fascinatingly, Houghton owns Darwin’s autograph manuscript copy of page 156 of that edition (MS Eng 1214, 009371370), another opportunity students have to come into contact with physical Darwin memorabilia.

Much of Houghton’s Human Evolutionary Biology materials are academic. Charles Peirce, one of the most important American philosophers of the nineteenth century, wrote about evolution in two manuscripts that are part of Houghton’s collection (MS Am 1632 [954], 000602456). Demonstrating the multifaceted nature of evolution as a theory, he linked Darwin to Thomas Malthus—and thus to an economic viewpoint on the matter—and discoursed about some of the philosophical topics surrounding the theory.

Quine’s personal collection of academic papers is also laden with material linked, in one way or another, to evolution as a scientific and a philosophical theory. These papers include “DNA Map of the Human Lineage” by Jared M. Diamond (1646), the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel; Daniel Clement Dennett’s “Evolution, Error, and Intentionality” (1628) and “What Evolutionary Good is God?” (1626), the latter perfect for research in conjunction with the Religion department; Elliott Sober’s “Revisability, A Priori Truth, and Evolution” (2213); and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s “Against Evolutionary Arguments in Epistemology” (2077), fit for interdepartmental work with Philosophy. Two items in that compendium are particularly fascinating due to their somewhat unorthodox treatment of evolution; they include Clement’s reply to a review of his work by H. Allen Orr (1641) and personal correspondence between Quine and Clive Entwistle, an architect with peculiar views on Darwin (333).

Finally, a peculiar, unorthodox item concerning evolution that might be of interest to students is Timothy Leary’s The Periodic Table of Energy (MS Am 2786, 013634384), a typescript linking the periodic table to the theory of evolution and the Tarot, the I Ching, and the Zodiac. Though maybe not useful academically for HEB concentrators, it is certain to entertain.