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Darwin-L Message Log 3:32 (November 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<3:32>From KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu  Fri Nov  5 16:03:34 1993

From: KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1993 17:08:03 EST5EDT
Subject: Re: popular works

Not to pick nits, but there is a larger point on popular authors to
be made.  Dave Policar wrote

  I picked up Gould on my own in high school and college and learned
  a fair amount from him. Wasn't a substitute for biology or
  ethology classes, both of which I took in college, but helped me
  make more out of them. My first ethology class used his text,
  which I still remember --

I think he's referring to James L. Gould's _Ethology_ (1982).  I'm
sure by now James -- himself a fine popularizer of bee dance language
work -- has had plenty of experience being confused with Stephen.  I
know that a number of my students have assumed the two Gould's to be
the same.  But I also think, taking this discussion also to Dawkins'
work on selfish genes, that popular authors get associated with a lot
of ideas: some that are present in their work, some that are fleshed
out because of their work, and even, we could say for S. J. Gould
and Dawkins, some ideas of others that they have written about.
There are also the ideas, because a book is popular and
influential, some ideas that everyone assumes are in the work.
Certainly many people still think _Origin of Species_ is about people
descending from monkeys, or at least assume Darwin's major point was
human evolution.

I can't resist the obvious for our group:  In _Origin of Species_
Darwin wrote a very popular book, in a style that could be called
scientific (for its day) and popular.  He used the widely known
rhetoric and examples of the natural theology/natural history genre,
and Gillian Beer has argued that he used narrative conventions of the
novel of "development"  (_Darwin's Plots_).  It's also "popular" in
the convention of not including detailed notations to sources and
previous work.  It is also, as Dawkins desires, clearly
understandable to those not versed in the deep details of its
evidences.  Just what is it about a popular and readable text that is
supposed to be the problem?

William Kimler
History, North Carolina State University
kimler@ncsu.edu

p.s.  The responses re "cavemen" have been wonderfully helpful, and
just the sort of interest and help that one could wish a listserv to
provide.

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