Institute for Environmental Studies

A History of the Environment Mark Madison Class Discussion 5 (February 21): Galapagos in Context

1. The Background:

Charles Darwin took part in a five year voyage as an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle. The Beagle's mission was to map coastal waters around South America for the increasingly lucrative trade with the continent. Darwin's mission was to make sense of the natural world he discovered while the ship was in port. In 1835 the 26 year old Darwin spent 5 weeks on the Galapagos Islands and made the observations recorded in the chapter for this week's readings. His naturalist's eye quickly noted many of the strange animal specimens on these desolate volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. Many of these observation would later support his theory of natural selection first expressed in 1859 in his Origin of Species.

2. Assigned Reading:

Darwin, Charles. Voyage of the Beagle. [1839] London: Penguin Books, 1989, Chapter XIX: "Galapagos Archipelago," pp. 268-290.

3. Discussion Questions:

¥What exactly does Darwin observe while at the Galapagos? What conclusions does he draw from these observations?

¥What does Darwin observe about the distribution and origins of the plants and animals? What evidence does Darwin find to support his theory of natural selection?

4. The Assignment:

Write a short review of the Chapter of Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle assigned this week. For the purpose of this review assume the personality and writing style of a contemporary of Darwin (e.g., a Royal Naval Officer, a naturalist, a theologian, etc.) assigned to review the book for a specific periodical (e.g., Journal of Natural History, Travel and Leisure, Religious News, Royal Navy Weekly). Identify the reviewer and the journal and then proceed to write the review in character.

The purpose of this assignment is to emphasize ideas of historical context. That is, secondary sources (such as reviews, texts, journal accounts) are written by authors who bring their own prejudices and inclinations to their project. To use secondary sources properly one must be aware of the context of that author and their inclinations. By creating a fictional context in this essay, hopefully you will have a better sense of the importance of local context in understanding our varied historical sources.

5. Reminder:

Format: Type and double-space all essays. Place references in parenthetical notes: (Darwin, 1989, 268,). The essay is due in class this week. Late essays will be penalized 5 points per day late. The essays should be approximately 500 words (that is not less than 250 words nor more than 750 words). On every essay you should have a title page with:

  1. Your name and student number.
  2. Professor's Name: "Mark Madison"
  3. Course Title: ENVS 299: A History of the Environment
  4. Number of words in the essay.
  5. Date the essay was submitted.
  6. Original title for your essay.