Statement of Research Interests: [pdf]

Working Papers:

Scientists and Slaveholders: Proslavery Orthodoxy and Proslavery Science, 1830-1860

Abstract: Science, as a presumed realm of the universal not the particular, has been proposed as a remedy to reconcile democracy with central action, because science relies, like liberal democracy, on reasons that all could accept. In addition, science can widen the space for democratic action by providing citizens with reasonable sources of knowledge to solve political disputes. However, I argue that science was unable to fulfill this role before the Civil War, because it was, itself, part of the political process. Before 1860 naturalists, ethnologists, anthropologists, and theologians debated the place of the races within the natural hierarchy in places like Mobile, Charleston, and Richmond, as well as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Their debates over race and the unity of the human species were intimately tied to the political controversy over slavery.

Evolution in America: Four False Narratives and One Right One

Abstract: I describe four narratives that previous scholars have used to examine the American reception to Darwinism.  The first two narratives highlight the success of Darwinism by looking at evolution’s place within America’s ‘middle-class culture’ and its belief in ‘free-market capitalism’.  The other two narratives highlight evolution’s failure to achieve general acceptance within American society by looking at America’s supposed ‘religiosity’ and ‘provincialism’.  These methods of analysis coexist uneasily, and so this project suggests that political incentive provides a more satisfactory alternative for thinking about evolution’s history in America.

A Brother and a Man: Darwin and the Politics of Race in America, 1860-1880

Abstract: “Evolution’s Politics” explores the political incentives that shaped Darwin’s reception in the United States, and provides a comparative look at the case of the United Kingdom.  Darwinian evolution altered the political coalitions that appealed to the authority of the biological sciences.  In the UK, evolution had been associated with radicals, Chartists, and the French, but after Darwin, evolution was associated with industrialists and laissez-faire capitalists.  In America, evolution had been associated with southern planters, polygenists, and white supremacists, but after Darwin it was associated with northern industrialists, monogenists, and relative racial egalitarians.  These divisions made the evolution not simply a matter for teachers and scientists, but a political question to which legislatures and citizens responded. Evolution’s story illustrates how the politics of scientific advice can change the authority that scientists and educators have to deliver their knowledge to the public.  I argue that scientific authority is dependent upon the trust that citizens have in scientists and educators, and that political disagreement lowers citizens’ trust in scientific education, as happened in nineteenth century America.

“Dignity and Species: Darwin’s Challenge to Cosmopolitanism”