Writing Science Lives: Why Biography Matters

AN ARTS MATTERS FORUM COPRESENTED WITH THE FACULTY OF ARTS

Professor Janet Browne, Professor Iain McCalman and Professor Alison Bashford
12 August, 2010
 

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? Pre-eminent Darwin scholar and Harvard Professor of the History of Science Janet Browne, talks with Sydney’s prizewinning historian Professor Iain McCalman, about the challenges and delights of the biographical genre for historians. In conversation with Alison Bashford, this is an evening that probes the intellectual life of these keen observers and interpreters of the world of Victorian science.

Janet Browne


Janet Browne's 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 specialized 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 biography 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. From 2006 she has been a member of the History of Science Department at Harvard University. She was previously based for many years at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London.

Iain McCalman

Iain McCalman was born in Nyasaland, Africa and now lives in Sydney, where he is a Research Professor at the University of Sydney. He has held numerous visiting research fellowships in Britain and the United States, most recently at Duke University, North Carolina. In 2007 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to history and humanities. 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

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.