By Blake Wedding —
The University of Louisville honored Professor of Biology Lee Dugatkin for his research in evolutionary biology and science Jan. 9. The seminar highlighted his efforts in exploring the contemporary relationship of evolutionary biology with that of United States history and philosophy.
U of L invited Dugatkin to present a lecture based upon an important and relatively unknown topic of discussion: the failed expedition of André Michaux that nearly made Lewis and Clark’s infamous expedition a footnote.
Dugatkin’s lecture was informative and full of surprising bits of historically relevant information. He introduced the audience to historical figures both infamous and more unknown, including Thomas Jefferson, André Michaux, Edmond-Charles Genet and George Rogers Clark.
However, the key information was the failed expedition of westward exploration based around biological research and botany that, had it occurred, would most likely have made Lewis and Clark a footnote.
Dugatkin cited this story as just one in a book he’s currently working on. “I’m working on a book right now that revolves around natural history, including natural history expeditions that occurred around this time,” Dugatkin said.
The professor said he became enraptured with this story because people are so unfamiliar with it and just how important it is from a historical and scientific perspective.
Regarding the question of why so many people are unaware of Michaux’s story and the expedition that nearly happened, Dugatkin said he believes that because the expedition did not happen, it never received the limelight or attention that it might have otherwise.
He also believes the general public’s unawareness of such an imperative event in modern history reflects a greater need for reflection in academic and scholarly circles.
“I think it all revolves around the fact that we need to do better as a whole at understanding the scientific environment in the early America and how it interacted with politics,” Dugatkin said.
Dugatkin spent many years training as a lab scientist in evolution and behavior and has dedicated his life to teaching evolutionary biology.
Throughout all that time spent training and learning about evolutionary biology, Dugatkin discovered how surprisingly intermingled the fields of biology, history and philosophy were.
“I began to learn about all of these incredible people that had been involved, and above and beyond, over the incredible science that they did. I realized there were a lot of interesting connections between what was going on in the scientific world and how it was affecting things on a geopolitical scale,” Dugatkin said.
“I found myself falling in love with that sort of work and dedicating a lot of my time to it.”
It was through these interests in the relationships between these various fields that he began work on a number of different books, such as “Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose,” a book dedicated to examining natural history in America and its relationships with early politics.
Dugatkin has used his acquired knowledge in the political and public sphere.
“I probably give around thirty to forty lectures around the world every year on various aspects of science,” Dugatkin said. “I’ve spoken in Mongolia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany and Austria.”
His advice was simple. Study things outside of the major requirements. “Don’t feel boxed in by whatever your particular major or discipline is,” Dugatkin said. “If you’re studying biology, read about philosophy and the history integrated in the biology you’re reading about. That would also hold true if you were studying history; you might want to know what’s going on scientifically.”
Students who are interested in learning more about Dugatkin’s published works and supporting him directly can find his published works on Amazon, including “Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose.” For those who want to learn from Lee Dugatkin firsthand, you can find him in the University of Louisville’s biology department.
Graphic by Alexis Simon // The Louisville Cardinal