August 21, 2008

Incoming students' first assignment: Delving into Charles Darwin as part of the 2008 Common Reading


As the Case Western Reserve University Class of 2012 make their way to campus this fall, most of them will have already completed their first assignment: The reading of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen.

Of the book, which was published in 2006, a Los Angeles Times Book Review critic wrote that "Quammen brilliantly and powerfully re-creates the 19th century naturalist's intellectual and spiritual journey."

Case Western Reserve's common reading selection — and its annual Fall Convocation speaker for 2008— will help kick off the university's yearlong celebration of Darwin. To mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth (February 12, 1809)—and the 150th anniversary of the publication (November 24, 1859) of his influential book On the Origin of Species—the university will pay tribute to the British naturalist with a university-wide celebration from fall 2008 to summer 2009.

In his book, Quammen sketches a vivid life portrait of Darwin and his reluctance to publish his controversial theory of evolution. Twenty-one years passed between Darwin's epiphany that "natural selection" formed the basis of evolution and the publication of On the Origin of Species. Quammen explores why Darwin delayed the groundbreaking publication, as well as what happened during the course of those two decades.

The book was distributed to new undergraduate students this summer. Leading up to and at the beginning of the fall semester, students will have an opportunity to discuss the book during small group discussions, and faculty will be encouraged to consider the reading— and the Darwin Bicentennial—when designing course curricula for the coming academic year. Also, incoming students, current and transfer students, as well as faculty, have an opportunity to enter essay contents with the book as a common theme.

In addition to reading the book and having the opportunity to write an essay, the university community will get to learn more about Darwin when Quammen keynotes the university's Fall Convocation, the first, formal celebration to kick off the new academic year, on August 28 in Severance Hall. Quammen, the author of over a dozen books who was educated at Yale and Oxford universities, has tentatively titled his lecture "Darwin vs. Himself: Caution and Honesty in the Life of a Reluctant Revolutionary."

The common reading program, which was implemented in 2002 for incoming first-year, serves as a basis for programs and discussions beginning at orientation and continuing through the fall semester. The committee solicits recommendations from the campus community, and selections are usually chosen based on their appeal to young adults, relevance to new college students, the author's availability to speak at the university, and the potential to ignite discussions across campus.

For more information contact Kimyette Finley, 216.368.0521.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, August 21, 2008 12:55 PM | News Topics: Campus Life, Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Provost Initiatives, Students, features

Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.