Friday, February 13, 2009

Darwin 200 at Hampshire College

First, a happy 200th anniversary to Charles! We got together at Hampshire for some talks and some cake yesterday evening. The 8 person faculty panel "Darwin & Me" worked very well (each speaker was limited to 5-minutes and one slide), and the topics ranged from Darwin's work on emotions and how it applies to psychology, philosophy and studies of animal behavior, the emergence of new form of American poetry (including very long poems) in the later half of the 19th century that was inspired by the principle of evolution, the role of genetics in determining races, improvisational music with its inspiration from natural selection, Darwin's contributions to geology, evolutionary and genetic programming, and even dance - what can we learn about movement from the knowledge of our evolutionary past. Phew!! The whole event was fantastic and went without a glitch. So kudos to Laura (Sizer) for organizing this and for putting the whole semester-long Darwin Across the Disciplines together (and, of course, for yesterday's choice of chocolate cake).

Update (2/14): You can find an excellent summary of the presentations at To Find the Principles.

But this is not all. As part Hampshire's Darwin-related activities, Charles Ross last night launched a semester long Evolving Hampshire project. Here is the description:

Evolving Hampshire is an experiment designed by evolutionary biology professor Charles Ross that will attempt to model the principles of descent with modification (evolution) and natural selection. Throughout the spring the campus community will watch an idea evolve as it moves from class to class. Participating classes in a variety of disciplines will answer the question: “What is Hampshire?” The question will start in one class, then move through a series of classes over time, with selected answers moving forward with modification.

Each student in a class will select the best answer from those produced by an earlier group (generation). Then, individuals will modify the answer from the perspective of their course’s focus or discipline—be it history, 20th century film, dance, or geology. Answers can be presented in any medium. Student facilitators will visit the participating classes to give presentations on the basic principles of evolution by natural selection, as well as to handle logistical details. The process of selection and the evolving results will be tracked and presented to the campus community at the close of the semester.

The results will be unveiled on April 28th. We have no clue what we will get at the end (see evolution...), but we are hoping that we may get an idea what Hampshire really is. Stay tuned for the results.


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