Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Darwinian Revolutions Video Series

The Darwinian Revolutions

An online video lecture series
in honor of the 150th anniversary
of the original publication of
Charles Darwin's Origin of Species

Produced by:
The Cybertower at Cornell University

Written, directed and narrated by:
Allen MacNeill, Senior Lecturer
The Biology Learning Skills Center
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Videography by:
Dina Banning

Sound Engineering by:
Colbert McClennan

Technical Direction by:
Becky Lane

Videotaped at:
The Museum of the Earth
The Paleontological Research Institution
Ithaca, New York

Voiceover Narration Recorded at:
Fall Creek Studios
1201 North Tioga Street
Ithaca, New York

Images Obtained at:
WikiMedia Commons
Stebbins/Simpson/Dobzhanky photo credit: Martin Tracey

Galapagos Video Credit:
Prof. William Provine

It's finally done! After more than a year of meetings, writing, image acquisition, videotaping, sound recording, editing, revising, captioning, and (most of all) thinking, our video series on the Darwinian revolutions is now online!

This series of six online videos is a brief introduction to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and its implications. Here is a brief synopsis of the six episodes (click on each episode title to go to the linked video):

Episode One: Darwinian Revolutions
We begin with an overview of the series, which has been released to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection revolutionized both the biological sciences and our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In this episode we learn that Darwin's theory has itself evolved in the 150 years since it was published. We also learn that Darwin actually presented two theories:
• a theory of descent with modification from common ancestors, and
• the theory of natural selection, Darwin's mechanism for evolution.

Episode Two: Evolutionary Ancestors
Beginning with an overview of Darwin's predecessors, we learn how the idea of evolution by natural means alone goes back more than two thousand years, to ancient Greece and Rome. Democritus of Abdera first proposed the "ground rules" for naturalist evolution, which were later extended by the Roman poet and philosopher, Lucretius. However, these early naturalistic theories were eclipsed for almost two millennia by the ideas of Plato and Aristotle.

Episode Three: Lamarck's Theory
In the 19th century, Jean Baptiste Lamarck set the stage for Darwin's monumental achievement with his Philosophie Zoologique (published in 1809), which advanced a theory of evolution by means of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Lamarck's theory was the first theory of evolution to include a testable mechanism for evolutionary change — the inheritance of acquired characteristics — and provides a useful comparison with Darwin's theory.

Episode Four: One Long Argument
Darwin, whose academic training at Cambridge University was in Anglican theology, became an acclaimed naturalist and science writer following the five-year voyage of HMS Beagle. Using the notes and specimens that he had collected during the voyage, Darwin spent twenty years refining his theory, first published in 1859, of evolution by natural selection.

Episode Five: Mendel and the Eclipse of Darwin
Darwin's theory of descent with modification was accepted by most scientists worldwide within ten years of its publication in 1859. However, his theory of natural selection was widely criticized, and by the turn of the 20th century was widely considered to be dead. However, the work of Gregor Mendel, who discovered the foundations of what we now call genetics, provided a mechanism by which Darwin's theory could be revived and expanded.

Episode Six: The Evolving Synthesis
In the final segment of this series, we visit the The Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York, whose director, Dr. Warren Allman, discusses the importance of such museums to the science of evolutionary biology. We also hear from Cornell professor William Provine, who discusses Darwin's work and its importance to the history and philosophy of biology. He tells us how Darwin's original theory of natural selection was integrated into the sciences of population genetics, ecology, physiology, paleontology, embryology, and botany, to produce a "modern synthesis" of evolutionary theory. Prof. Provine also tells us how the "modern synthesis" has continued to evolve, and that today is the most exciting time yet in the history of Darwin's scientific revolution.

This has been an exciting year: the 200th anniversary of the publication of Lamarck's Philosophy Zoologique, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. There have been many events marking these anniversaries, and there will be many more. As Will Provine says, the theory of evolution is more dynamic, more exciting, more widely accepted, and more widely applied than at any time in the past century and a half. With the accelerating pace of discoveries in evolutionary biology and their applications in biology, medicine, psychology, economics, and even literature and art, the 21st century shows all indications of being what the founders of the "modern synthesis" called it back in 1959: the "century of Darwin" and his theory of evolution by natural selection.


As always, comments, criticisms, and suggestions are warmly welcomed!


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