Alfred Russel Wallace, Collector

Network Node: 
Wed., Oct. 16, 2013, 3:30pm

Alfred Russel Wallace, Collector
Edmonton, University of Alberta, Oct. 16, 2013


The Alberta node is please to support this event as part of "More than Natural Selection: A Lecture Series on Alfred Russel Wallace" University of Alberta, October 2013


In a 1908 speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the joint Darwin-Wallace publication of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Wallace asserted that the fact that both he and Darwin were "ardent beetle-hunters" was key to their discovery.  I argue here that Wallace's claim -- which is usually dismissed as an instance of typical Wallace over-modesty -- was indeed the foundation of his career in biology and beyond.  Because beetles are hyper-diverse, they provided Wallace with an ideal introduction to the study of -- and eventual understanding of -- the factors underlying biological diversity.  Beetles supplied opportunitIes for professional advancement both in terms of publishing and in terms of overseas collecting.  Wallace's experiences in the field -- his frustrations with his English assistant in the Malay Archipelago, his use of the colonial/ex-patriot networks, and his respect for the local people he was dependent upon -- would shape more than just his scientific thinking.


Speaker:   With expertise in the evolutionary genetics of fruit flies, Andrew Berry is Lecturer in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.  In the history of science, he has a particular interest in Alfred Russel Wallace, and edited an anthology of his writings, Infinite Tropics (Verso, 2002).

Lecture Series description: Alfred Russel Wallace was a great natural historian and a leading figure in the debates that swirled around the questions of evolution and the origins of humans in the nineteenth century. He and Charles Darwin are often paired as co-discoverers of evolution by natural selection. But Wallace’s interests were very wide ranging. One hundred years after his death, we will remember in this lecture series Wallace the natural historian and evolutionist, but we will also explore lesser known aspects of Wallace’s life, including Wallace’s involvement with spiritualism, his political sympathies, and even Wallace the protagonist in controversies around the existence of extra-terrestrial life.   These multiple idiosyncrasies are usually described as paradoxical departures from, even diminishments of, Wallace’s scientific competence.  We find in them a different sort of paradox.  They simultaneously attest to Wallace’s profound intellectual originality and independence while also being inextricable from the culturally and historically specific milieu of Victorian science.   Each of the talks in the series will explore a different aspect of this paradox and the interesting problems it poses for the study of science.

For information on other events in this series, see here: