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Theories of Human Evolution - A Darwin Now Network

Why a Darwin Now Network on theories of human evolution?

The question of human evolution was central to Darwin’s theory. Although The Descent of Man , published in 1871, was Darwin’s most serious attempt at dealing with the question, human evolution was already an issue of intense scientific and public debate 12 years earlier, immediately following the publication of On Origin of Species . Since then human evolutionary studies have deepened our understanding of the origin, evolution and migration of our own species from multidisciplinary perspectives. The many disciplines involved including palaeoanthropology, biological and social anthropology, primatology, archaeology, zoology, linguistics, genetics and geography has greatly helped to deal with the complexities of the issue, but also leaves us with a challenge of handling the many varied theories and combining them in a comprehensive understanding of human evolution that both brings together current research and generate inspiration for the future. A network for discussing theories of human evolution from scientific, philosophical and historical perspectives will proactively explore the synergies and ways of optimizing the necessary research communication in a heterogeneous field of different practices, methods, models and understandings.

One of Darwin’s most important legacies is often overlooked. At a time when the sciences were branching out in more and more specialized fields and naturalists turned into scientific professionals, Darwin demonstrated the power of converging evidence from individual research fields. As disciplines multiplied, Darwin was synthesizing our knowledge of the natural world and thus paved the way for future research. We will honour this legacy by exploring the potentials in an interdisciplinary network for discussing the theories of human evolution.

Darwin changed the way we look at humans scientifically, essentially allowing us to ask the question ‘why are humans the way they are?’, and then looking for an answer in terms of evolutionary history and adaptation. Theories in human evolution are therefore attempts to answer this question. There has, however, been relatively little explicit consideration of what makes a good or satisfactory theory of human evolution. By bringing together practitioners in human evolutionary studies with philosophers and historians of science we wish to address the nature of such theories.

Why now? Timeliness is clear in terms of the ongoing celebrations of Darwin’s bicentenary, but perhaps more significant is the growing interest in humans in an evolutionary perspective, perceptible across a range of disciplines from genetics to anthropology to genetics and philosophy. Much is descriptive and exploratory, and theoretical aspects have been largely fragmentary rather than unifying. This network would explore the broader theoretical and explanatory potential.

Aims, research questions and outcome

As genetic technologies have advanced rapidly during the course of the past decade and a new interest is gaining ground among researchers in archaeology, anthropology, history and philosophy around the world, human evolutionary studies face a special situation. By drawing the many disparate and individually successful fields together and by focusing on interdisciplinary discussions we are in a unique position for addressing the big issues in the theories of human evolution today and thus set a course for the future.

Some of the research questions to be explored in the network will be: What constitute good or bad theoretical models? How do we do and make things better? What are the most important issues in contemporary research? Is it a problem or an advantage that we have multiple theories of human evolution? Are they converging? How do we get more synergy between studies of human evolution?

The research questions and preparations for a large-scale research workshop will be discussed at a pre-seminar, an explorative network meeting in 2009. This meeting will serve as the basis for designing a two-day research workshop with internationally leading scholars in human evolutionary studies. The outcome will be evaluated at a meeting in the autumn 2010 assessing a strategy for future research and collaboration. A collected volume will be prepared based on the presentations and discussions at the research workshop. This will ensure that conclusions resulting from the network will come to use and thus help the next generation of scholars in human evolutionary studies to go beyond present knowledge.

Recent articles

2014.10.22 | Visit, Biocultural theory

Joseph Carroll is Bioculture Visiting Professor in 2015

The Centre for Biocultural History is happy to announce that Aarhus University's Research Foundation is sponsoring Professor Joseph Carroll, University of Missouri at St Louis, as a visiting professor at Aarhus University from January 2015 until June 2015.

2014.02.14 | Media coverage, Biocultural theory

Darwin and evolution on Danish TV2

Bioculture members Casper Andersen, Mathias Clasen & Peter C. Kjærgaard with evolution friends talk about Darwin and evolution on Danish TV2



The network is sponsored by the British Council and organised as a collaboration between the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge and Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Studies, Aarhus University.