Thursday, November 3, 2011

University of Iowa faculty member David Depew has received a $33,400 emeritus fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to conduct research about how Darwinian population genetic evolutionary biology interacted with the field of anthropology in 20th century America.

Depew, professor emeritus of communication studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and in the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry (POROI) in the Graduate College, is using the grant to co-author a book to be entitled, “Darwinism and Democracy in the American Century.”  The book will trace the interactions of evolutionary biologists who advocated for the modern synthesis of natural selection and genetics with anthropologists who developed the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas’ claim that all races have equal capacities as human beings.

“In the post-World War II period, anthropologists opposed racism, and sometimes the concept of race itself, and supported democratic pluralism by uniting with evolutionary biologists who took these ideals to be in the grain of nature itself,” said Depew, who is currently serving as POROI’s acting director.  “It is less well known, however, that these biologists had been interacting with anthropologists in the Boas tradition for a long time, especially at Columbia University, and took their insights into account in framing their theories.”

The fellowship will enable Depew to work in the archives of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. He will examine the extensive correspondence among American evolutionary biologists and anthropologists.

Depew and his co-author, John P. Jackson, associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado, will show how this material helps interpret the published texts of figures such as Ashley Montagu and Theodosius Dobzhansky.  Depew and Jackson are students of scientific controversies that affect and are affected by debates about public policy and political ideals. 

Mellon Emeritus Fellowships are intended to support the scholarly activities of outstanding faculty members in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who, at the time of taking up the fellowships, will be officially retired but who continue to be active and productive in their fields.

There is no requirement that emeritus fellows remain at their home institutions, but it is assumed that many will wish to do so.  Emeritus Fellowships do not preclude their holders from teaching on a limited basis.

Depew is one of 28 fellowship recipients in 2011. Since 2003, only one other UI faculty member has received this award. Laird Addis, professor emeritus of philosophy, earned the fellowship in 2008.