Ablystom punctatum, from G. E. Coghill. Anatomy and the Problem of Behavior. Cambridge: University Press, 1929.

Ablystom punctatum, from G. E. Coghill. Anatomy and the Problem of Behavior. Cambridge: University Press, 1929.

I am broadly interested in the relationship between science, philosophy, and culture in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe.  My work explores the temporalities of environment, evolution, and catastrophe. I am interested in theories of history, especially those that challenge divisions between human and natural history.  

I am currently writing a book, Biology and the Historical Imagination: Science and Humanism in Twentieth-Century France, about the ways that the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis transformed French ideas about individuality, subjectivity, and history. The story centers around two generations of French philosophers, including Raymond Aron, Georges Canguilhem, Cornelius Castoriadis, Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Raymond Ruyer, and the biologists they turned to as resources, including Maurice Caullery, Étienne Wolff, and George E. Coghill.  For their colleagues in philosophy, biologists’ research was not a simple source of raw data, or evidence that could be marshaled to adjudicate matters of fact. It was rather an essential ally for the task of understanding human history. I am also at work on a second project on the historical linkage between scientific ideas of environment and historical theories of context.  This project intervenes in contemporary historiographical debates about climate and scale by showing how both the concept of “global” and the use of “historical context” have evolved in conversation with scientific debates about environment both on the ecological and animal scale.  The project tracks a shift in ideas of environment from a nineteenth-century analytic that rested on a sharp human-animal distinction to twenty-first-century notions of the Anthropocene.

Here is a short example of my work: Undisciplined Biology in 20th-Century France