UMaine events to mark Darwin’s influence

Posted Aug. 28, 2009, at 1:10 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — Much was made in February of the anniversary of naturalist Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. The University of Maine, however, is focusing on another Darwin anniversary that also falls this year.

UMaine will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s seminal book, “The Origin of Species,” with a semester-long lecture course and a weeklong panel series in November, and a keynote lecture in October.

“I teach about natural selection and Charles Darwin in my courses, and for the last 10 years when I talked about the book, [a significant anniversary] was always seven years away, eight years away,” said Kristin Sobolik, a UMaine anthropology and climate change professor who helped organize the semester’s celebration. “Finally last year I was like, oh, it’s the 150th [next year]. I thought, we need to do something.”

The events are free and open to the public.

The lecture course about Darwin and “The Origin of Species,” in which Darwin laid out the theory of natural selection that became the foundation of all the biological sciences, begins Monday, Aug. 31.

All lectures will be held from 8:35 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. in 130 Little Hall. They also will be videotaped and available for viewing on the Darwin celebration Web site.

Larry Smith, an associate professor of psychology, will open the series with a talk setting Darwin in a historical context.

Sobolik said there are 15 faculty members from different disciplines across the university participating in the lecture series. The areas of study include history, biology, chemistry, forensics, psychology and anthropology.

Sobolik said the diversity of the presenters shows how widely Darwin’s theories can be applied.

“Darwin’s theories [are the basis of] every foundational theory of biology, but liberal arts and sciences [areas of studies] all use natural selection in what they teach and how they think about life in general,” she said.

The panel series, which takes place Nov. 9-12, the week “The Origin of Species” was actually published, also will feature a wide variety of topics, such as the theory of social Darwinism and Darwin’s theories as related to the arts.

Darwin scholar Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University will give a keynote speech on Oct. 15. In addition, Fogler Library on the UMaine campus will feature special Darwin displays during the fall semester.

The fact that Darwin’s theories have held up for 150 years while other scientific theories are constantly tested and disproved is one of the reasons “The Origin of Species” is significant, Sobolik said.

“It’s the foundational theory [of biology] so it’s being tested every single day on a wide variety of organisms from humans to the smallest single-cell organisms,” she added. “That it’s lasted so long is just incredible.”

For more information, go to www2.umaine.edu/anthropology/Darwin1.html.

jbloch@bangordailynews.net

990-8287

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