Writing in the Sciences Assignment #4: Essay for a Periodical

Writing Assignment #4: Scientists Writing for Society – Essay for a Periodical (5 – 7 pp.)

“Natural History”, the magazine of the American Museum of Natural History, has commissioned you to write an essay in the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould’s column “This View of Life”, relating evolutionary theory to an aspect of art, literature, history, philosophy, or contemporary culture.  The column, published monthly up through January, 2001, was based on musings of an evolutionary biologist who found analogies between evolutionary processes and diverse aspects of human culture.

For example, in one essay, “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse”,  Gould likened the evolution of Mickey in drawings, to a reverse developmental process – where the later, most highly-evolved drawings of Mickey had the most infantile proportions, and the earliest drawings had the most adult proportions. The essay addressed how evolutionary principles are unconsciously interwoven into art.

Your task is to brain-storm a commonality between art, literature, history, or philosophy, with biology, and write an interpretive essay, suited for a museum-going audience with limited scientific background.  Reading a few of Gould’s essays will provide a model for this assignment.

Learning Goals:  Drawing parallels between biology and other disciplines; expression of ideas for an educated non-scientist audience; honing techniques for “readability” for a general audience


Gould, The Mismeasure of Man
Gould, The Panda’s Thumb
Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
Natural History Magazine, “This View of Life” archives

Informal Writing Assignments: Brain-storming ideas in art/philosophy/history/literature that can be likened to evolutionary concepts; free-writing on possible topics; drafting alternative opening/closing paragraphs

Posted in Use secondary source as lens to analyze primary source

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