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UD’s celebration of Darwin Day, an international event honoring
the naturalist’s birthday, will cover two days (Feb. 15-16) with
speakers discussing Charles Darwin’s work in formulating the theory of
evolution as well as other scientific topics.
With all the
controversies and political debates that seem to surround such issues as
how to teach students about science and evolution, parents might wish
there were some informative and engaging books on the subject for young
As it turns out, there are. A lot of them.
“I looked at an array of children’s books about Charles Darwin, and
I’m very impressed with what’s out there,” the University of Delaware’s
Margaret Stetz said. “They promote virtues such as curiosity and
open-mindedness in general when discussing Darwin’s scientific work.
They encourage young people to trust facts, learn from history, be
courageous thinkers and go beyond the worlds they know.”
Stetz, who is the Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and
professor of humanities, will speak about the subject as the opening
keynote speaker for UD’s annual Darwin Day events this month. Her talk,
“Pop Goes the Beagle: Darwin for Children,” will be held from 4:30-6:30
p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 15, in Morris Library and is free and open to the
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UD’s Margaret Stetz will discuss some of the many children’s books
about Darwin that, she says, encourage youngsters to be curious and
celebration of Darwin Day, an international event honoring the
naturalist’s birthday, will continue on Thursday, Feb. 16, with four
additional speakers. Their talks encompass Darwin’s work in formulating
the theory of evolution as well as other scientific topics.
When Stetz is asked if there
are many books for youngsters about Darwin, she goes to her shelf and
returns with an armload of colorful and illustrated works. The stack,
she says, “is just a sampling of what’s available.”
The books she will discuss in her talk range from child-friendly biographies (My Friend Darwin), explanations of evolution (The Tree of Life), Darwin’s work (What Darwin Saw: The Journey that Changed the World), a coloring book and even some fantasy time travel (Anna and Evan Meet Charles Darwin).
Stetz said she became interested in the subject because of the way
science has increasingly become politicized, while “what children learn
in classrooms and in libraries is also under hostile scrutiny.” Her
survey of recent British and American books for children will explore
what authors are teaching young readers about Darwin and the role of
science in the past and present, she said.
“I’m tying my topic to issues of censorship and the ways in which
science and scientists are being presented,” she said. “I think the
kinds of books I’ve found go beyond Darwin and biology and can encourage
children to get interested in science, and careers in science, more
The focus on science is central to International Darwin Day celebrations worldwide.
At UD, the two-day event is organized by Karen Rosenberg, professor
of anthropology and director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
program, and John Jungck, professor of biological sciences and of
mathematical sciences. The University has been marking the celebration
for 10 years, and Jungck and Rosenberg say they’re especially pleased
that the speakers always represent various academic disciplines and
attract a diverse audience from campus and the community.
“International Darwin Day offers an excellent opportunity to
showcase how an intellectual revolution in one discipline has had so
many ramifications in almost every other subject in academia,” Jungck
said. “It affords us an opportunity to gather in an interdisciplinary
community to share some of the ramifications of evolutionary thinking —
Darwin's legacy — and how Darwin altered the way we view ourselves and
the place we have in this universe.”
Charles Darwin (1809 to 1882) was an English naturalist whose
scientific theory of evolution by natural selection became the
foundation of modern evolutionary studies. As Brittanica.com reports,
Darwin formulated his bold theory in private in 1837–39, after returning
from a voyage around the world aboard HMS Beagle. It was not until two
decades later that he finally gave it full public expression in “On the
Origin of Species (1859),” a book that has deeply influenced modern
Western society and thought.
addition to Stetz’s talk on Wednesday, Feb. 15, four experts will speak
and answer audience questions on Thursday, Feb. 16. The talks, free and
open to the public, will be held in Room 215 of the Patrick T. Harker
Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (ISE) Lab.
The speakers and their topics are:
3:30-4 p.m., Will Kenkel, assistant professor in UD’s
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, will speak about
“Monogamy: What’s Love (and the Placenta) Got to Do with It?” Kenkel
will address questions of human monogamy and reproduction and explain
them via the evolution of another of humanity’s core features: our large
4-4:30 p.m., Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, professor emerita in
UD’s Department of Art History, will discuss “Cezanne and His Land:
Geology, Meaning and Aesthetics.” Athanassoglou-Kallmyer specializes in
the history of 18th- and 19th-century European art with emphasis on the
art and culture of France from the 1780s to the early 1900s.
4:30-5 p.m., Mary Bowden, assistant professor of environmental
humanities in UD’s Department of English, will speak about “Darwin’s
Botany and Plant Animation in H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon.”
Bowden specializes in British literature of the long 19th century,
focusing particularly on environmental topics.
5-6 p.m., Fred H. Smith,
Darwin Day’s Distinguished Lecturer, will deliver the talk “An
Afternoon with the Neanderthals.” Smith, University Professor of
Anthropology at Illinois State University, provided this summary of his
Neanderthals have long been considered the epitome of the dumb
caveman. Early ideas emphasized not only their physical, but also their
perceived behavioral and intellectual inferiority compared to modern
humans. Among the differences emphasized were those relating to
language, symbolic behavior, technology and morphology. Recent
discoveries find no evidence to assume inferiority in intelligence on
the part of Neanderthals. We now know that Neanderthal morphology
reflects adaptation to the harsh, cold environs of western Eurasia
during the Pleistocene rather than primitive inferiority. Both the
Neanderthals’ morphology and behavior provide insight into why these
well-adapted people were ultimately replaced by early modern humans.
Article by Ann Manser, photos courtesy of Margaret Stetz, International Darwin Day, Fred Smith and Illinois State University
Published February 08, 2023