Where’d Hugo Go?

[NOTE: This post has been significantly revised – and improved – based on input from Jim Endersby, author of the Isis article referenced herein. The original post, along with Endersby’s comments and my reply, are attached as an addendum.]

Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries gained global fame in the first decades of the twentieth century for being the guy who finally figured out how evolution worked.

Darwin and De Vries

Opposing portraits of Charles Darwin and Hugo de Vries from the 1954 edition of Ella Thea Smith’s popular high school textbook, Exploring Biology.

Of course today we credit Darwin for this discovery, and backdate it to the publication of Origin of Species in 1859. But for many decades, into the 1930s in fact, Darwin’s theory of natural selection was considered insufficient (see Bowler, 1992). In the minds of many, De Vries’ idea completed the story of evolution.

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Venus, Mars and Marston Bates

Most of us think of conservation and ecology as more or less the same thing, with conservation the first step toward the restoration of an ecologically balanced state of nature. But through the first half of the twentieth century, the two words signified quite different things.

In the teens, 20s and 30s, biology textbook authors positioned ecology as a minor sub-discipline of their field, and characterized it unflatteringly as a descriptive, womanly endeavor. As Edward Loranus Rice states in An Introduction to Biology (1935), “it would not be wide of the mark to define ecology as the domestic science, or home economics, of animals and plants” (p. 4).

Conservation on the other hand was progressive, manly.

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Howard M. Parshley’s Translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: Contrition, Sabotage or Suicide?

For most of the last 25 years, Howard M. Parshley, translator of the first English edition of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1953), has been cast as a saboteur of second-wave feminism. In a 1983 article, Margaret A. Simons characterized Parshley as a barely bilingual hack, ungrounded in philosophy, and bored by women’s history as evidenced by his many mistranslations of existentialist terminology and the fact that he cut the many stories of strong women present in the original. According to Simons, Parshley, a Smith College zoologist, got the gig only because Beauvoir’s American publisher, Knopf, mistakenly thought her book was about the act of sex, and Parshley had written a book on human reproduction in the early 1930s.

From The Science of Human Reproduction (1933) by Howard W. Parshley. Eugenics Publishing Company.

Parshley had his defenders, including Richard Gillman, a one-time neighbor, who in a 1988 article in the New York Times noted that Parshley, rather than hostile to Beauvoir, had encouraged Knopf to publish The Second Sex in English after reading it, in the original French, in 1949. In a note to Knopf, Parshley described the book as, “a profound and unique analysis of woman’s nature and position, eminently reasonable and witty.”

In an ironic turn, Parshley’s reputation has recently been restored, at least partially, through the publication of a new English translation of The Second Sex that was prodded into existence by Simons and other critics. The latest edition is complete and supposedly more sensitive to the original’s existentialist armature. However, at least one reviewer has admitted that the language of the new edition is literal to the detriment of felicity and coherence.

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The Weight of the Moon or How a Single Textbook Skewed Our View of History

In the 1950s and 1960s, Moon, Mann and Otto’s Modern Biology was the most popular high school biology textbook in the country, commanding upwards of 50% of the market. It was also among the most retrograde and out of date.

Scholars have criticized the book for its weak presentation of the topic of evolution. The 1956 edition is the focus of particular scorn. In that edition all references to human evolution were deleted. The publisher of the second most popular textbook, Exploring Biology, followed suit a few years later.

Had the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) not stepped in to stem the slide by developing new textbooks in early 1960s, would evolution have disappeared from American classrooms altogether? Continue reading

Bentley Glass’ 1949 Introduction

Bentley Glass was proving a hard character to introduce cold in a blog.

Then, just the other day, I found a key. A search on Abebooks turned up a 1949 Houghton Mifflin text I’d never heard of, The World of Life by Wolfgang F. Pauli. Curious, I ordered it.

What do you know? It turned out to be a fascinating book edited by none other than Bentley Glass!

Pauli’s text is a remarkably bold attempt to reignite an interest and embrace of eugenics after World War II. The World of Life is nothing short of the missing link that connects an older nationalistic eugenics, common in textbooks from the 1920s and 30s, to a more generalized and globalized “eugenics that dare not say its name” that would emerge in biology textbooks in the early 1960s, including textbooks produced by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), a group chaired by Bentley Glass.

(For a good history of the BSCS, see John L. Rudolph’s Scientists in the Classroom.)

Here is Glass’ “Editor’s Introduction” from Wolfgang F. Pauli’s The World of Life in full, followed by a few brief comments related to the passages highlighted in bold.
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