I am interested in the history of systematics, especially in the context of evolution. What similarities did naturalists observe between organisms in the centuries before Darwin, and what sense did they make of their observations? To what extent did accepting evolution alter the practice of classifying living things? Textbooks usually answer such questions with some version of the “essentialism story” popularized by Ernst Mayr, but I am now challenging the accuracy of this story, which accords a dominant influence to Platonic idealism. My current research explores the reasons that story was created, which incidentally exposes the paucity of its evidence. This episode of myth-making brings up questions about the role of histories within the practice of science, as well other issues in historiography.
2009. "Taxonomy was the foundation of Darwin's evolution," Taxon 58 (1): 43-49.
2007. "The mystery of Richard Owen's winged bull-slayer" (co-author Jennifer Coggon) in reprint of Richard Owen, On the Nature of Limbs: A Discourse, ed. Ron Amundson, University of Chicago Press: XCIII-CI.
2006. "Creation of the essentialism story: an exercise in metahistory.," History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 28 (2): 149-174.
2006. “Linnaeus’s biology was not essentialist,” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 93 (1): 2-7.
2003. “Non-essentialist methods in pre-Darwinian taxonomy,” Biology and Philosophy 18: 387-400.
2001. “The practitioner of science: everyone her own historian,” Journal of the History of Biology 34: 229-245.
2000. “Species, demes, and the omega taxonomy: Gilmour and The New Systematics,” Biology and Philosophy 15: 349-388.
1991. Reading the Shape of Nature: Comparative Zoology at the Agassiz Museum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1976. Starfish, Jellyfish, and the Order of Life: Issues in Nineteenth Century Science. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Current supervisions: Charissa Varma
Recent supervisions: Sara Scharf, Gillian Gass, Conor Burns, James Elwick, Tara Abraham