Faculty Books


Piers Hale, Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2014)

Historians of science have long noted the influence of the nineteenth-century political economist Thomas Robert Malthus on Charles Darwin. In a bold move, Piers J. Hale contends that this focus on Malthus and his effect on Darwin’s evolutionary thought neglects a strong anti-Malthusian tradition in English intellectual life, one that not only predated the 1859 publication of the Origin of Species but also persisted throughout the Victorian period until World War I. Political Descent reveals that two evolutionary and political traditions developed in England in the wake of the 1832 Reform Act: one Malthusian, the other decidedly anti-Malthusian and owing much to the ideas of the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck.

These two traditions, Hale shows, developed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation.  Participants disagreed not only about evolutionary processes but also on broader questions regarding the kind of creature our evolution had made us and in what kind of society we ought therefore to live.  Significantly, and in spite of Darwin’s acknowledgement that natural selection was “the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms,” both sides of the debate claimed to be the more correctly “Darwinian.”  By exploring the full spectrum of scientific and political issues at stake, Political Descent offers a novel approach to the relationship between evolution and political thought in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.


Rienk Vermij, De geest uit de fles: De Verlichting en het verval van de confessionele samenleving [The Enlightenment and the decline of the confessional world]  (Amsterdam, Nieuwezijds, 2014)

Longlist 2014 Libris History Prize


De Geest uit de fles discusses the Enlightenment not as an episode from the history of philosophy, but as an episode in the history of western society.  The book does not ignore or diminish the wealth of ideas that the period produced, but its main focus is not on the ideas themselves, but on their place in the political and social context.  It asks what concrete problems these ideas were supposed to offer a solution, and what were the factors that determined their success.

De geest uit de fles qualifies the role of eighteenth-century thinkers.  On the other hand, it discusses at length the changing relations between Church and state, discoveries and developments in the field of learning, and the emergence of an active and informed citizenry.  [in Dutch]



Kathleen Crowther, Adam and Eve in the Protestant Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Recipient of the 2011 Gerald Strauss Book Prize

Adam and Eve in the Protestant ReformationThe story of Adam and Eve, ubiquitous in the art and literature of the period, played a central role in the religious controversies of sixteenth-century Europe. This is the first book to explore the variety and circulation of stories about Adam and Eve in German Lutheran areas and to analyze their place in the construction of Lutheran culture and identity. Kathleen M. Crowther examines Lutheran versions of the story of Adam and Eve in a variety of sources, including bibles, commentaries, devotional tracts, sermons, plays, poems, medical and natural history texts, and woodcut images. Her research identifies how Lutheran storytellers differentiated their unique versions of the story from those of their medieval predecessors and their Catholic and Calvinist contemporaries. She also explores the appeal of the story of Adam and Eve to Lutherans as a means to define, defend, and disseminate their distinctive views on human nature, original sin, salvation, marriage, family, gender relations, and social order.



Rienk Vermij, Kleine geschiedenis van de wetenschap, fifth edition [Short history of science]  (Amsterdam: Nieuwezijds, 2013)

Kleine geschiedenis van de wetenschap

Kleine geschiedenis van de wetenschap is a concise overview of the history of science from antiquity to the present. It consists of three parts. In the first part, “the scientific revolution,” the conceptual changes in the period up to 1700 are central. The discussion of science in the modern period is split in two, following a distich by Schiller, who said that science is both a goddess and a milch-cow. The milch-cow is discussed in the second part of the book, titled “an independent science – methods, theories and researchers 1700-2000.” Here, such subjects as professionalization, instutionalization and the relation of science to industry are discussed. Science in this perspective is not so much a matter of big questions, but rather of small details. The big questions turn up in the third part of the book, “the scientific view of the world,” which discusses the debates on such issues as the origin of the world, the origin of life and of man, and the nature of reality. The final chapter discusses the impact of science on our general view of the world.  [In Dutch]




Suzanne Moon, Technology and Ethical Idealism: A History of Development in the Netherlands East Indies (Leiden: CNWS, 2007)

Technology and Ethical IdealismTechnology and Ethical Idealism investigates a pivotal intellectual and political moment in twentieth-century Indonesian history, the establishment of “development” as both an ideal and a practice. The focus of this study is on technological development as a central concern of colonial political life from 1900 to 1942 in the Netherlands East Indies. The foundations of developmentalist thinking and practice in the turn-of-the-century colonial reforms were called the Ethical policies. Tracing the interplay of Ethical politics at the highest levels of the Netherlands Indies colonial government with the technical practices of development taking place in the fields of ordinary Javanese farmers, it shows how and why technological development became such an enduring part of political and material life in the archipelago.

This study offers a new history of the Ethical policies that focuses on their often-neglected technopolitical character, and the formative influence they exercised on development thinking in Indonesia among both Dutch experts and members of the community of Indonesian activists known as the pergerakan. In startling contrast with many histories of development, it shows how the interaction of colonial idealism and scientific practice led the Dutch to commit to small-scale change in their “development of the native peoples.” As experts tailored technical solutions to ecological, social, and economic conditions of local areas, they eschewed high modernism in their search for colonial moderni-zation, unexpectedly prefiguring the appropriate technology movements that arose decades later. Based on extensive research in the colonial archives in The Hague, the National Library in Jakarta, and the Bogor Library of Biology and Agriculture, this study draws on official documents and scientific research of the era, as well as public discussions in both Dutch and Indonesian language newspapers and journals in order to capture not just the official plans, but also a wide range of public critiques and responses to development, and the day-to-day practices that shaped the productive lives of ordinary farmers. Offering a new exploration of politics and technology in colonial Indonesia, this book will interest historians of Indonesia and Southeast Asia, historians of technology, and those seeking to understand the complex colonial roots of international development.


Rienk Vermij, David de Wied. Toponderzoeker in polderland (Utrecht: Matrijs, 2008)

Toponderzoeker in polderland

David de Wied. Toponderzoeker in polderland is a biography of the Dutch pharmacologist and one of the pioneers of neuroendocrinology, David de Wied (1925-2004). He is best known as the person who first formulated the concept of neuropeptides, the idea that certain substances in the pituary gland had an effect on the working of the brain. De Wied researched in particular the effect on memory. Initially, the idea was hardly taken seriously, but presently, neuropeptides are a basic element of neurobiological theory. On the other hand, De Wied's attempts, in the last part of his career, to find medical applications for his neuropeptides remained unsuccessful and led to some harsh criticisms.
The book recounts the development of De Wied's research, his personal life, and his work as a research director in the Dutch academic setting. He developed his laboratory in Utrecht into a large single-purpose institution. As president of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, he aimed to transform this institution in line with the demands of the modern period and tirelessly served the interests of pure research. [In Dutch]