UCL Summer School


Darwin and the History of Evolution (Level 2)

Key Information

Module code
Taught during
Session One
Module leader
Professor Joe Cain
None. Standard UCL Summer entry criteria apply.
Assessment method
Podcast (40%), Visitor’s guide (60%)
Download syllabus (PDF)
Darwin and the History of Evolution (Level 2)

Module overview

Evolution is an idea at the heart of modern science and society. Everything evolves. This module explores the history of evolution as an idea, covering topics from the eighteenth century to the present. Yes, we will explore science: evolutionary biology has evolved and we’ll follow some of those changes. But there is so much more. London has been a key centre in the development of evolutionary studies. Darwin developed key ideas here. So did his predecessors, and many successors. We’ll visit locations such as Down House (Darwin’s family home), The Grant Museum of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, The Linnean Society and Oxford Museum of Natural History. We’ll explore episodes as diverse as (a) dinosaurs and deep time, (b) social Darwinism and corporate capitalism, (c) eugenics, (d) the clash in religion between fundamentalism and modernity, and (e) changing views of what it means to be human.

We also explore the idea of hero worship and commemoration: for example, why does Darwin receive so much credit, and why is he buried in Westminster Abbey? There are no prerequisites: the science will be accessible to liberal arts students; the history will be accessible to science students.

Please note that additional fee of £80 is payable for this on this module to cover the costs of the field trips and excursions.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, students will:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding in the history of science related to Darwin and the history of evolutionary studies
  • demonstrate knowledge and understand at both the level of content and historiography (i.e., history and heritage)
  • demonstrate the ability to interpret critically both primary and secondary sources
  • approach new material in this module's domain from a historical perspective and with a critical historian's eye
  • demonstrate an appreciation for the geography of knowledge

Module prerequisites

This is a level two module (equivalent to second year undergraduate). No prior subject knowledge is required to study this module but students are expected to have a keen interest in the subject area.

Module hours

Classes (usually three or four hours per day) take place on the Bloomsbury campus from Monday to Friday any time between 9am and 6pm.


  • 5-minute podcast (40%)
  • 6-page A4 visitor’s guide (60%)

Module leader

Professor Cain's research interests include the history of evolution (especially the synthesis period in evolutionary studies), Darwin and Darwinism, history of science in London, and history of natural history. His research interests range from romantic collaborations in modern science to the famous dinosaur statues in London's Crystal Palace. In 2009 he published a new edition of Darwin's Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Penguin) and a collection of essays on new trends in the history of Darwinism, Descended from Darwin (American Philosophical Society). He’s run successful guided tours related to Darwin and science in London for nearly two decades. As an example of his work, see his 2013 UCL Inaugural Lecture, “Darwin in London” https://youtu.be/TtW713AyNsM

Application information

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