Middlebury

Life and work of Charles Darwin focus for symposium September 23-26

September 9, 2009

  • Updated, September 24.

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? The 2009 Nicholas R. Clifford Symposium, titled "Celebrating Darwin's Legacy," will take place at Middlebury College on Wednesday, Sept. 23, through Saturday, Sept. 26. The symposium will feature prominent scholars and authors, as well as Middlebury College faculty members, and include lectures, panel discussions and readings. All events are free and open to the public.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species." The Clifford Symposium will explore the enduring impact of Darwin's work across a broad range of disciplines.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 p.m., the symposium opened with a theatrical reading of "After Darwin," a contemporary play by Timberlake Wertenbaker that tells the story of Charles Darwin and the seafaring journey that would provide him with the basis for "On the Origin of Species." The play is directed by Middlebury College Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone and took place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center.

Alex Draper, Middlebury Class of 1988, a visiting assistant professor of theatre, and Michaela Lieberman, Class of 2010, reading a scene from 'After Darwin,' the performance that kicked off this year's Clifford Symposium on September 23.
- Photo by Robert Keren

On Thursday, Sept. 24, at 12:30 p.m., Middlebury College Professor of Biology Helen Young will present a lecture titled "View from Galapagos," followed by an original dance performance by Middlebury College Professor of Dance Andrea Olsen titled "On Close Observation." This event will take place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center. Young's lecture will describe the role of the Galapagos in Darwin's ideas about variation within species as relating to "species modification" and descent. Olsen's dance, which draws text from Darwin's autobiography, is an excerpt from the full performance, which she will present on Saturday, Sept. 26.

At 4:30 p.m., a panel discussion titled "How Darwin's Ideas Have Influenced the Biological Sciences" will take place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center. Panelists include Middlebury College's Professor of Biology Steve Trombulak and Assistant Professor of Biology Jeremy Ward, and University of Vermont's Professor of Biology Charles Goodnight and Assistant Professor of Biology Sara Helms Cahan.

At 7:30 p.m. that evening, the first of four keynote addresses will take place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center. Stephen C. Stearns, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, will speak about "Major Themes in Evolutionary Medicine." Stearns' research focuses on evolution and evolutionary ecology. He has written books on the evolution of sex, life histories and health and disease, and he has authored more than 70 research papers in primary journals.

On Friday, Sept. 25, at 12:30 p.m., the second keynote address will take place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center. Mark Schlessman, a botanist whose research focuses on plant reproductive ecology and the evolution of sexual systems in plants, will discuss "Wretched-looking Little Weeds: Insights on Evolution from the Flora and Fauna of the Galapagos." Schlessman is a professor of biology at Vassar College.

Later that day, at 4:30 p.m., also in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center, a panel discussion on "How Darwin's Ideas Have Influenced the Humanities" will take place. The panel of Middlebury College faculty members includes Professor of Spanish Miguel Fernández, Associate Professor of English and American Literatures Antonia Losano, Associate Professor of Religion James Calvin Davis and Assistant Professor of Philosophy John Spackman.

That evening, at 7:30 p.m., the third keynote address will take place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center, with a simulcast in Dana Auditorium in Sunderland Language Center on College Street (Route 125). Daniel Dennett, a distinguished professor of philosophy at Tufts University, will discuss "Darwin and the Evolution of Reasons." Dennett's research centers on the philosophies of mind, science and biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He founded the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts in 1985.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, the symposium continues with a full-day workshop titled "Darwin's Ideas in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Evolutionary Theory," beginning with a welcome of coffee and pastries at 9 a.m. in the Great Hall of McCardell Bicentennial Hall, located on Bicentennial Way off College Street (Route 125).

At 9:30 a.m., in Room 216 of McCardell Bicentennial Hall, Gale Sinatra will deliver the final keynote address, titled "The Challenges of Teaching and Learning about Biological Evolution." Sinatra is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Her research focuses on conceptual change learning, which emphasizes the students' role in facilitating their own knowledge change. Her recent publication is "The Warming Trend in Conceptual Change Research," published in 2005. Following Sinatra's talk, at 10:30 a.m., several 30-minute breakout sessions will give participants the opportunity to discuss key elements of her lecture.

At 11:15 a.m., a panel discussion titled "Teaching About Darwin's Ideas" will take place in Room 216 of McCardell Bicentennial Hall. Panelists include Middlebury College Professor of Psychology Barbara Hofer, Middlebury College Professor of Biology Helen Young, Mount Abraham Union High School teacher Samantha Kayhart and Salisbury Community School teacher Amy Clapp.

Lunch will be served at 12:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of McCardell Bicentennial Hall. Reservations are required. Email cliffsym@middlebury.edu to reserve a spot.

At 1:30 p.m., a series of hands-on demonstration labs titled "Teaching Evolution" will take place in Rooms 303, 309 and 311 of McCardell Bicentennial Hall.

The final event of the symposium will take place at 4:30 p.m. in the Mahaney Center for the Arts Dance Theatre. Middlebury College Professor of Dance Andrea Olsen will present the full version of her original solo dance performance titled "On Close Observation," inspired by a Mellon-funded trip to the Galapagos Islands in the summer of 2008. A video, including photographs by Young and edited by student Nikhil Ramburn, accompanies the presentation.

Established by the Middlebury College board of trustees in 1993 and named for College Professor of History Emeritus Nicholas R. Clifford, the Clifford Symposium presents a unique opportunity for members of the community to come together to reflect upon issues and problems that have an intellectual and cultural life beyond the boundaries of the campus. Clifford was a member of the Middlebury College history department from 1966 through 1993, and served as vice president for academic affairs on three occasions - from 1979-1985, in 1989 and from 1991-1993. A former trustee, he was a co-chair of the college's Bicentennial celebration committee.

This year's Clifford Symposium is organized by the Middlebury College Department of Biology and sponsored by several Middlebury College organizations including the biology and dance departments, the Program in Environmental Studies, Ross and Cook Residential Commons, and the Nicolas R. Clifford Fund. For more information, contact Biology Department Coordinator Joanna Shipley at 802-443-5437 or shipley@middlebury.edu.  

Following is a schedule of symposium events:

2009 Clifford Symposium
"Celebrating Darwin's Legacy" Sept. 23-26

Wednesday, Sept. 23
7:30 p.m. Theatrical Reading
"After Darwin" by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Directed by Middlebury College Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone, with Assistant Professor of Theatre Alex Draper and students Michaela Lieberman, Willie McKay and Mat Nakitare.
McCullough Social Space, Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125)

Thursday, Sept. 24
12:30 p.m.    Lecture and Dance Performance

"View from the Galapagos"
Middlebury College Professor of Biology Helen Young
  "On Close Observation" (an excerpt)
Middlebury College Professor of Dance Andrea Olsen
McCullough Social Space, Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125)

4:30 p.m.    Panel Discussion
"How Darwin's Ideas Have Influenced the Biological Sciences"
Panelists: Middlebury College Professor of Biology Steve Trombulak and Assistant Professor of Biology Jeremy Ward, and University of Vermont Professor of Biology Charles Goodnight and Assistant Professor of Biology Sara Helms Cahan
McCullough Social Space, Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125)

7:30 p.m. Keynote Address: Stephen C. Stearns
"Major Themes in Evolutionary Medicine" 
Stearns is a professor at Yale University whose research focuses on life-history evolution and evolutionary ecology.
McCullough Social Space, Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125)

Friday, Sept. 25
12:30 p.m.    Keynote Address: Mark Schlessman
"Wretched-looking Little Weeds: Insights on Evolution from the Flora of the Galapagos"
Schlessman is a professor of biology at Vassar and his research focuses on plant reproductive ecology and the evolution of sexual systems in plants.
McCullough Social Space, Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125)

4:30 p.m.    Panel Discussion
"How Darwin's Ideas have influenced the Humanities"
Panelists: Middlebury College faculty including Professor of Spanish Miguel Fernández, Associate Professor of English and American Literatures Antonia Losano, Associate Professor of Religion James Calvin Davis and Assistant Professor of Philosophy John Spackman
McCullough Social Space, Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125)

7:30 p.m.    Keynote Address: Daniel Dennett
"Darwin and the Evolution of Reasons" (simulcast in Dana Auditorium)
Dennett is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Tufts University, and his research centers on fields relating to evolutionary biology and cognitive science.
McCullough Social Space, Old Chapel Road off College Street (Route 125)

Saturday, Sept. 26
Educational Workshop: Darwin's Ideas in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Evolutionary Theory 
9 a.m.    Welcome, coffee and pastries

Great Hall, McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Bicentennial Way off College Street (Route 125)

9:30 a.m.    Keynote Address: Gale Sinatra
"The Challenges of Teaching and Learning about Biological Evolution"
Sinatra is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose research focuses on conceptual change learning.
Room 216, McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Bicentennial Way off College Street (Route 125)

10:30 a.m.    Breakout Sessions
Great Hall, McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Bicentennial Way off College Street (Route 125)

11:15 a.m.    Panel Discussion
"Teaching about Darwin's Ideas"
Panelists: Middlebury College Professor of Psychology Barbara Hofer, Middlebury College Professor of Biology Helen Young, Mount Abraham Union High School teacher Samantha Kayhart and Salisbury Community School teacher Amy Clapp
Room 216, McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Bicentennial Way off College Street (Route 125)

12:30 p.m.    Lunch
Reservations are required. Email cliffsym@middlebury.edu to reserve a spot.
Great Hall, McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Bicentennial Way off College Street (Route 125)

1:30 p.m. Teaching Evolution: Hands-on Demonstrations of Labs
Rooms 303, 309 and 311, McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Bicentennial Way off College Street (Route 125)

4:30 p.m.    Dance Performance
"On Close Observation" (full performance)
Middlebury College Professor of Dance Andrea Olsen's performance is inspired by a Mellon-funded trip to the Galapagos Islands in the summer of 2008.
Mahaney Center for the Arts Dance Theatre, South Main Street (Route 30)

This year's Clifford Symposium is organized by the Department of Biology. For more information, contact Biology Department Coordinator Joanna Shipley at 802-443-5438 or shipley@middlebury.edu.

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