Metaphor and Science: The 'Cycle of Life' in History of Ecology, 18th-20th Century

Project: 9
Name: Lloyd Ackert (; 518-965-3562)
Department: History and Politics
Academic Area: History/History and Political Science/Philosophy/Science, Technology, and Society/Sociology/History of Science

Title: Metaphor and Science: The 'Cycle of Life' in History of Ecology, 18th-20th Century

Students will participate in my ongoing project investigating the relationship of holistic concepts, such as the cycle of life, to ecological research. I am writing a book on the history of ecology that explores this theme beginning in the 18th century with the work of Linnaeus and Lavoisier, organic chemists in the early 19th century, microbiologists in the late 19th century, and into the 20th century and the work of soil scientists. The book ends with a discussion of recent work in microbiology especially as it is related to biogeochemistry and astrobiology. This story moves across American, Russian, French and German contexts, but can be extended into other areas as well, if the student has a particular interest or language training. Students will have the opportunity to apply their own expertise, whether it lies in the sciences, history, philosophy, languages, or the arts to a synthetic investigation in the history of science. I work closely with students to develop a thesis for the project that engages their interest and skills, yet leave plenty of room for independent creativity.

Associated Independent Study:
Guided by the student's interests and skills, the project will explore a focused theme related to a broad understanding of the history of ecology. Viable projects include, but are not limited to, the social and cultural context for research in ecological sciences (geology, biology, evolution etc), the creative process in science (the nature of eureka moments), the relationship between natural history and laboratory investigation, the search for extraterrestrial life.

Gained Experience:
The student will have the opportunity to develop a number of intellectual products of use to their career, including written reports of their research, a course syllabus on the topic, a collection of source material (both primary and secondary). I will work with the student to prepare materials for applying to conferences, such as CoAS Research Day, and the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR).

I am writing a book on "The Cycle of Life: a History of Ecology." Based on my research for this project, I am currently organizing a collaborative course with faculty at the Academy of Natural Sciences, preparing presentations for the History of Science Society meeting, and writing articles for journals in the History of Science.

The student will work with me to develop a strategy and schedule of activities that include weekly meetings with me, research at local institutions, and the production of scholarly work according to their interests, skills, and the theme of the project.

Much of the student's work will be independent research in the local institutions where the project leads him or her, including Philadelphia archives (American Philosophical Society, Academy of Natural Sciences) or for the more adventurous student, the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Meetings will take place in my Drexel office.

The schedule of the weekly meetings will be arranged to fit the student's schedule. I will be available most of the week over the Summer.

Interview Availability:
April 16, April 17, April 18