Tuesday, January 6, 2009

American degeneracy

Welcome to the CCS blog. Or welcome back as the case may be. Note that all the posts from last time the class ran are available and are still relevant, entertaining and useful - or at least as relevant, entertaining and useful as they ever were. You can use the labels on the right hand side to pull up the posts about a particular topic.

In lecture today I briefly mentioned Jefferson's desire to find a mammoth to refute the assertion that America was in some way degenerate. It's an interesting story and the Academy of Natural Sciences has a nice series of webpages entitled 'Buffon's Degeneracy'. To make this even more relevant to lecture you can also read about Buffon's disagreement with Linnaeus (see the footnote on page 1)

"In America, therefore, animated Nature is weaker, less active, and more circumscribed in the variety of her productions; for we perceive, from the enumeration of the American animals, that the numbers of species is not only fewer, but that, in general, all the animals are much smaller than those of the Old Continent."
George Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788)

Others would take this further:
"One must be astonished that America has not yet produced one good poet, one able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science."

Read page two for the American response.

The anteater with a splendid classical background is from Buffon's Histoire naturelle, thirty-six volumes of which were completed during his lifetime and another eight published after his death from material he had prepared.

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