Top ecologists help Carleton celebrate Darwin’s legacy

Some say Charles Robert Darwin has had the greatest single impact on Western thought and culture since the mid-1700s.

The 19th century British naturalist’s co-discovery of the evolution of species through natural selection revolutionized the field of biology and forms the basis of evolutionary theory. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, was a landmark scientific work at the time and has sparked considerable controversy amongst theologians as well as the general public.

In celebration of Darwin’s birth on February 12, 1809 (he died April 19, 1882) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his famous book, Carleton is presenting a series of free public lectures during Darwin Week which runs February 9 to 13, with an additional lecture on April 17. Researchers of evolutionary biology, evolutionary ecology, geography, geomorphology, philosophy and zoology from Britain and North America will make daily presentations during the event.

“There is much interest in evolution and ecology,” says physical geographer Chris Burn, who is spearheading the week-long event.

Burn, who has been studying climate change in the North for more than 25 years, says that because of Carleton’s size and the support of senior management, organizing a week of activities around Darwin came together easily.

Sponsorship has also come from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, CBC Radio One, the British Council and the Society for the Study of Evolution.

“Darwin’s legacy has been so profound,” notes Burn, “that such disciplines as philosophy, history, geology, religious studies, biology and geography have absorbed the impact of Darwin’s work. It’s a marvellous opportunity to provide an interdisciplinary approach to a topic of wide interest.”

Burn also expects there will be many people around Ottawa who are interested in the series of lectures.

“We are providing people who are at the front of current thought, people who are at or near the top of evolutionary biology and other fields,” says Burn. “It is critical that an institution such as Carleton engage with the community and provide public discourse: Darwin was a pivotal person and represents a pivotal time and fundamental ideas. You can argue that he had more impact on Western thought than anybody else in the past 250 years.”

And Carleton evolutionary biologist Prof. Root Gorelick – who has worked with Burn to bring the massive event together – agrees.

“Darwin Week will bring together a diverse array of people with a common focus. Members of the greater Ottawa community, the Carleton community, and an array of the world’s leading experts will have a dialogue on many topics flowing from Charles Darwin – from philosophy, to religion, to physical geography, to ecology, to human evolution,” says Gorelick.

“Darwin Week will provide humble reminders of the impact of scientific work that was not appreciated in its time.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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