Award-winning Darwin biographer to speak at University of Sydney

12 August 2010

Pre-eminent Darwin scholar and Harvard professor Janet Browne will join two University of Sydney scholars on Thursday 12 August to discuss the challenges and delights of writing historical science biographies.

In addition to Professor Browne - a world authority on Darwin - the Sydney Ideas forum titled Writing Science Lives: Why Biography Matters will feature the University's Iain McCalman (Darwin's Armada) and Professor of Modern History at the University, Alison Bashford (Griffith Taylor: Visionary, Environmentalist, Explorer).

The forum will detail how the lives of distinguished scientists have been recreated and will pose the questions: what do we learn when we revisit scientists' past worlds? How might one write a life as famous as Charles Darwin's? Why is biography the best-selling genre of all?

This evening is a rare chance to hear leading observers and interpreters of the world of Victorian science discuss their work and passions. And as the film Creation, based on Darwin's life, appears on cinema screens across Australia, it is also an opportunity to separate the facts of Darwin's life from the fiction.

Janet Browne is known as the world's leading scholar on the life, times and thoughts of Charles Darwin and is the Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Her interests range widely over the history of the life sciences and natural history. After a first degree in zoology, she studied for a PhD in the history of science at Imperial College London, published as The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography (1983).

Ever since then she has specialised in Charles Darwin's work, first as associate editor of the early volumes of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, and more recently as author of a biographical study that integrated Darwin's science with his life and times. The two-volume biography, Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2001) was awarded several prizes, including the James Tait Black award for non-fiction, the WH Heinemann Prize from the Royal Literary Society, and the Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society. Before Harvard, she was previously based for many years at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London.

Iain McCalman is a Research Professor at the University of Sydney's Department of History and has held numerous visiting research fellowships in Britain and the United States, most recently at Duke University, North Carolina. His most recent book, Darwin's Armada, winner of the Sid Harta Literature Award has been published in Australia, USA and the UK and was made into a three-part documentary Darwin's Brave New World.

Alison Bashford is Professor of Modern History at the University of Sydney. In 2009-2010 she was Chair of Australian Studies, Harvard University, based in the Department of the History of Science. She has held fellowships at Edinburgh, University College, London and Warwick Universities in the UK. Her recent books include a biography of geographer and Antarctic explorer Griffith Taylor and a world history of eugenics.

This Sydney Ideas event is an Arts Matters forum and is co-presented with the Faculty of Arts.

Event details:

What: Writing Science Lives: Why Biography Matters

When: 6.30pm, Thursday 12 August

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus

Cost: Free event, no booking or registration required.