Monday workshop
Monday, November 3, 2014 (All day)

337 Cohen Hall

Bernard Lightman, York University

"Global Spencerism"

Abstract: In an edited collection that came out of the 2009 celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, James Secord discussed “Global Darwin,” emphasizing the need to focus on how Darwinism was communicated through a commercial system of print. I want to do for Spencer what has been done for Darwin: treat him as an important global figure. This paper will explore how Herbert Spencer’s ideas were disseminated, communicated, and appropriated around the globe, primarily from the 1860s to the 1920s. It is possible to separate Spencerism from Darwinism, although contemporaries sometimes conflated them.

Spencer’s evolutionary theory, cosmic in nature, and based as it was on Lamarckian modes of thought, was quite different from Darwin’s. Since Darwin’s theory of natural selection did not become fully accepted until the 1920s, Spencer’s form of evolution still had scientific legitimacy into the early decades of the twentieth century. In the last few decades of the nineteenth century, Spencer was read across the globe, from New York to Damascus, and from Tokyo to Cape Town. Why was he so popular, and in some cases, preferred to Darwin as the chief expositor of evolution? I will explore some possible answers in this paper.