“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” -Thomas Jefferson
An election year is an exciting time to be in Iowa. It is also a good time to take the opportunity to raise your awareness of the history of voting in our country.
Does it seem like a tall order to go out on a cold, dark night and spend several hours at a caucus when there is work to be done or family to look after at home? Does it feel like a chore to remember to diverge from the usual daily route to go cast a vote on election day? I am reluctant to admit to you that it has, at times, been so for me.
We would do well to remember that so many before us have suffered mightily to secure such rights and bring us to where we are today. Let us pause this February -Black History Month- during this election year to reflect on the historical significance of African American voting rights in particular.
In his book Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights, Lawrence Goldstone chronicles the struggles encountered and overcome by black Americans whose voting rights have been suppressed. Goldstone shows us many of the ways voter suppression and oppression has happened through violence, misinformation and even through the manipulation of laws.
Have you heard about the widely respected mid-19th century Harvard University professor by the name of Louis Agassiz who promoted a science called polygenism? Polygenism purported that blacks and whites developed from different ancestors and that blacks were not even human. Agassiz and others like him imposed this idea as so-called proof that blacks were inferior and unsuited for anything but menial labor. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published in 1859 and changed that theory. According to Goldstone, “Agassiz furiously condemned natural selection as ‘a crude and insolent challenge to the eternal verities, objectionable as science and abominable for is religious blasphemies.'” Though polygenism eventually died, racial inequity did not.
Learn more by checking this book out from the Learning Collection at The Library at Main.
Have Darwin’s birthday celebrations piqued your interest in natural selection and evolution? One painless way to learn about a complex subject is to explore it through fiction. A funny, easy-to-read example is The Evolution of Jane by Cathleen Schine. While on an ecological tour of the Galapagos Islands, Jane begins to apply Darwin’s principles to her own relationships – in particular, the unexplained break with her childhood friend, who(coincidentally!) is leading the tour.
Barbara Kingsolver calls the book a “beautifully descriptive travelogue of the Galapagos, loaded with mini-lectures on natural history, evolutinary theory and Darwiniana, wrapped around a rollicking family saga tinged with hints of sexual intrigue….My hat is off to any writer who can render such complex ideas comprehensibly in English…”
How does one simplify the subject of evolution? One solution — read some children’s books on the subject. Well, at least that’s what I did. After quickly purveying Darwin’s original On the Origin of the Species, it was pretty obvious that I wouldn’t be finishing it anytime soon, so I did the next best thing. I checked out what we had in the juvenile section, and lo and behold, I could actually understand them! I also garnered some fascinating tidbits about this legendary scientist. For instance, did you know that Darwin . . .
- was a poor-to-mediocre student who would rather be out hunting than studying the classics? (Wouldn’t most kids?)
- dropped out of medical school as he couldn’t stand to watch surgery being performed on children without anesthetic? (That would do me in, too.)
- spent five years on a voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle? (Though plagued with terrible seasickness, he collected countless new specimens and fossils.)
- spent eight years just studying barnacles?
- was an ardent abolitionist?
- preferred the term “transmutation through natural selection” over “evolution”?
- suffered from stage fright so severe he couldn’t publicly defend his ideas?
If you’re interested in finding out more about Darwin, check out these titles:
Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas by Kristan Lawson
Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (a graphic novel!) by Heather Adamson
The Tree of Life: a Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist and Thinker by Peter Sis
There are very few individuals who are famous enough for society to continue to celebrate them 200 years after their birth, but on February 12, 1809, two very famous men were born. One, Abraham Lincoln, is very familiar to Americans, as our 16th President.
Another influential individual, born across the Atlantic on the very same day, was Charles Darwin. Though most people know that Darwin wrote about evolution in his On the Origin of the Species, there continues to be much controversy regarding this subject. So, why not use the month of February to find out more about both of these influential men? Drop by the library and see our displays on both! And check back here for continuing blogs on both of these birthday buddies.