An Intimate History of Evolution
Jesus College Honorary Fellow Alison Bashford FBA came to the Intellectual Forum on Wednesday 5 October to discuss her book An Intimate History of Evolution.
She joined in conversation with Professor Sujit Sivasundaram.
In his early twenties, poor, wracked with depression, stranded in the Coral Sea on the seemingly endless survey mission of HMS Rattlesnake, hopelessly in love with the young Englishwoman Henrietta Heathorn, Thomas Henry Huxley was a nobody. And yet together he and Henrietta would return to London and go on to found one of the great intellectual and scientific dynasties of their age.
The Huxley family through four generations profoundly shaped how we see ourselves. In innumerable fields observing both nature and culture, they worked as scientists, novelists, mystics, film-makers, poets and educators.
Alison Bashford’s new book, An Intimate History of Evolution, interweaves the Huxleys’ momentous public achievements with their private triumphs and tragedies.
Their speciality was evolution in all its forms – at the grandest level of species, deep time, the Earth, and at the most personal and intimate. They shaped great organisations – the Natural History Museum, Imperial College, the London Zoo, UNESCO, the World Wildlife Fund – and they shaped fundamentally how we see ourselves, as individuals and as a species, one among many.
We heard from the author about this extraordinary family and learned how much we owe – for better or worse – to the unceasing curiosity, self-absorption and enthusiasms of this small, strange group of men and women.
The event was followed by a drinks reception and a chance to purchase the book.
About the speaker
Alison Bashford FBA is Honorary Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge, and currently Laureate Professor of History at University of New South Wales. Previously she was Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, at the University of Cambridge.
She is an author of books on Malthus and world population, on the history of public health and quarantine, and of eugenics. In 2021 she was awarded the Dan David Laureate Prize for her work in the history of medicine.