Descent of Darwin: A Workshop

Inspired by the upcoming 150th anniversary of the 1871 publication of Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Erika Milam and Suman Seth are organizing an international workshop at Princeton University in February 2018 revisiting the development and legacy of Charles Darwin’s ideas about human evolution. Despite Darwin’s clear and fascinating borrowings from the social realm, Descent has received remarkably little scholarly attention compared to the amount written on Origin. In the conference, we plan to partly rectify this imbalance, bringing together Darwin scholars with historians interested more broadly in the ways scientists in the last century and a half have continuously re-naturalized race, sex, and sexuality within evolutionary theory. The deep connections between social and scientific explanations of human diversity so visible in Descent have contentiously echoed through the past century and a half—in debates over slavery, eugenic theory, the Family of Man, sociobiology, women’s rights, public welfare, and more recently neurobiology.

Growing scholarship in this area makes early 2018 a perfect time to gather historians to collectively revisit the implications of evolutionary theory for understanding the diversity of humanity past and present, so that papers can be published in time for the 2021 anniversary. We seek to explore the background for Darwin’s ideas, as these played out in his own works and were incorporated into theories of later natural and social scientists. We ask, most broadly, how historians of science can come to a new understanding of Darwin’s legacy by following Descent from its roots to its fruits, wherever these traces lead us.


Australopithecus couple at the American Museum of Natural History.

Australopithecus couple at the American Museum of Natural History.

Co-organized by Erika Milam and Suman Seth

9-10 February 2018


Sponsored by Princeton’s Program in the History of Science, the Center for Collaborative History, the University Center for Human Values, and Gender and Sexuality Studies.