Lawrence celebrates 200 years of Darwin

Lauren Mimms

Thursday, Feb. 12, Professor Marcia Bjornerud organized a celebratory reading of “On the Origin of Species” in honor of biologist Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. The event took place in the Seeley G. Mudd library from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and involved readers from a variety of academic departments in addition to Lawrence students. Tea, scones and crumpets were also served.
Participants took turns reading aloud seven of the 14 chapters of Darwin’s groundbreaking book, each reading 10-15 minute excerpts. Discussion time after each reading was crucial and allowed for anyone to participate. The event was open to all of campus, and many students took the opportunity to stop by during the day. There were 26 readers, one third being students.
Senior Cynthia Drake participated in the reading, representing part of the anthropology department, which included three presenters: Associate Professor Mark Jenike, senior Tiffany Kornaus, and herself.
She said her favorite part of the celebration was “hearing such an important text read through the perspective of multiple LU departments. It was apparent how many academic fields were influenced by Darwin’s work.”
Professor of Geology and Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Studies Marcia Bjornerud planned the event because “Darwin’s ideas are so central to biology, as well as geology.”
Bjornerud also wanted people to hear Darwin’s works in his own words. While many know of his theories she believes that “in reading ‘Origin of Species,’ one comes to see Darwin as an incredibly observant, thoughtful person who wrote with great humility and keen insight.”
Engaging the participation of representatives from diverse departments was crucial in allowing for an interesting assortment of perspectives on the text.
Even English scholars can appreciate Darwin’s writing. Bjornerud said that much of it reads like poetry, including the final sentence, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
A few participants contributed unique input. Jessica Beyer studied at the London Centre last term and showed pictures of the Down House, Darwin’s home outside of London. Bjornerud was also delighted that Bart and Beth De Stasio joined the event from Stockholm via Skype.
Lawrence’s celebration of Darwin’s birthday was even worthy of a cameo mention in USA Today’s Feb. 10 edition.You can see the article at: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-02-09-darwin-evolution_N.htm/

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