Princeton University Department of History
Prof. Angela N.H. Creager
HIS 396: History of Biology
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com
Reminder: You may use these content-based questions as a springboard for your e-mail reading response, which should, however, focus on more general issues than the specific items detailed here. The response you send in to your preceptor each week should address all of the required readings (especially the primary source readings, which will be the focus for precept discussion); the text may include questions as well as analysis. A check will be given for summarizing readings, a + for analyzing them, and a - for not electronically mailing at least 250 words to your preceptor by one hour before your section meets. No extensions will be granted or late reports accepted for reading response. The first reading response is due in the second week of class, and one will be due every week of term thereafter except the week of the mid-term exam. The precept portion of your course grade will be based on your attendance and vocal participation in discussion as well as on your ten reading responses.
Schwann, excerpts from Microscopical Researches 1° source
p. ix (p. 116 of reader) ff. What does Schwann say is his purpose in writing the book? Through p. xvii is a review of the literature prior to his own work: Who does he say made the conclusive observations that plants are composed of cells?
p. 3 Who named the cell "nucleus"?
p. 4 (very top) What is a watch glass?
p. 189 Note the "molecules" Schwann talks about (also on pp. 191-95), out of which cells are built up. Does it sound like he means that term as Buffon meant it? (cf Sloan article; Buffon's organic molecules have a long history of many highly respected reincarnations, including Robert Brown's "active molecules," John Hughes Bennett's "histological molecules," Thomas Graham's "colloids", Herbert Spencer's "physiological units," Lionel Beale's "bioplasts", and even the "gemmules" of Darwin's theory of Pangenesis, in which Darwin was probably inspired by Robert Brown.) Or more like the way we use it today?
p. 193 What is the "cytoblastema"? How is he claiming that new cells form?
pp. 196-99 What does Schwann believe is the cause of fermentation? He mentions in his footnote "those who do not as yet admit" this theory of his and Cagniard-Latour's to be correct. The most prominent opponent, who insisted that fermentation was a chemical process, was Justus Liebig. Most physiologists and doctors believed contagious diseases were analogous to ferments, and thus believed either (with Schwann and Pasteur) that the agents transmitted were living organisms or (with Liebig) that they were chemical poisons which acted as catalysts of the disease process in the body.
pp. 200-212 Why is Schwann comparing cells to crystals? What are the properties they share in common, in his view? What are the differences? Does this sound like the idea of a vitalist? mechanist?
Sloan, "Organic Molecules Revisited" 2° source
Note: For a brief description of Buffon's theory of "organic molecules" and "interior molds", refer back to p. 65 of your reader (the Bowler article).
p. 415 What has most scholarship concluded prior to now, about Needham and Buffon's experiments?
pp. 415-16 Why does Sloan not find those conclusions convincing? (Find the Needham/Spallanzani debate in any introductory biology or microbiology textbook. What is said there about the conflicting experiments?) In his discussion to follow, what will Sloan argue about the quality of Buffon and Needham's experimental work?
p. 417 What did Buffon explicitly admit about his theory? Does Sloan argue that this shows weak scientific method?
p. 418 What's the problem with the illustration from Buffon's book on 419 (besides the fact that it xeroxed poorly?!)
pp. 420-21 How did critics such as Spallanzani, Bonnet and Holler respond to this? What evidence does Sloan give to show that Buffon and Needham must have used a different kind of microscope? What was "the most controversial of Buffon's claims"?
p. 421 What is the point of Sloan repeating the observations with a modern compound microscope at a magnification of 590x?
p. 424 What kind of microscope does Sloan argue was actually used by Buffon and Needham? Why does this matter?
pp. 424-25 How did Needham and Buffon's microscope compare with Spallanzani's? Why did the antagonists "talk past each other" in their debate?
pp. 425-28 Why is Robert Brown's discovery of Brownian movement pertinent?
p. 428 Why is it significant that "similar instruments had resulted in similar conclusions within very different theoretical frameworks"?
p. 430 What does Sloan think Buffon and Needham were actually observing when they reported spermatozoa losing their tails? When they saw spermatic animals in "female semen"?
p. 433 What does Sloan think they saw when they reported seeing animalcules spontaneously generated? Who was the technically handicapped party in the debate? How handicapped was he?
p. 434 What does Sloan say this debate shared in common with the Pasteur-Pouchet debate on spontaneous generation? (See the next article , by Farley and Geison, for details.)
Farley and Geison, "Science, Politics and Spontaneous Generation" 2° source
p. 162 What remark of Pouchet's has been used against him very similarly to Buffon's remark above? (See Sloan p. 144) According to Farley & Geison, what is wrong with these claims against Pouchet?
pp. 163-64 How did spontaneous generation become associated with the doctrines of materialism and transformism? What role did Cuvier play in this process?
pp. 165-66 In what ways did the climate of France in the 1850s-early 1860s resemble that of the time of the Cuvier-Geoffroy debates of 1830?
pp. 166-67 What influence did Darwin's Origin of Species have on the French scene?
p. 171 What was vitalistic about Pouchet's theory? Why did he argue that this was good, from a Christian point of view?
pp. 172-75 Why was Pasteur inclined a priori to discount the possibility of spontaneous generation?
p. 175 What is "remarkable, and does deserve immediate examination" about Pasteur's views?
p. 178 Why did Pasteur hope to become the "Newton or Galileo of biology"?
pp. 181-84 What role did the French Academy of Sciences play in the debate?
pp. 185-86 How is Farley and Geison's analysis of Pouchet's tenacity similar to Sloan's analysis of Buffon and Needham?
pp. 186-88 What were Pasteur's religious and political beliefs?
pp. 188-90 What can be inferred from the rhetoric he used in his famous 1864 Sorbonne lecture?
pp. 191-93 What is the point about heat-resistant spores? Why might "the debate have ended quite differently" on this point alone?
pp. 197-98 What conclusion do the authors reach about Pasteur and Pouchet? Are you persuaded?
Coleman, "Form: Cell Theory" 2° source
pp. 16-17 Why are cells important in biology, above and beyond their role as structural building blocks?
pp. 17-19 What was the relationship between anatomy and physiology (study of function) during this period? What does it mean to call this a "teleological conception of the organism"?
pp. 20-21 What was the "revolution in medicine" in the Paris hospitals in the years just after the French Revolution? What was Bichat's "tissue doctrine"? Why is this important with regard to cell theory?
pp. 22-23 What developments in microscopy were important to the development of cell theory? Does this seem like the main reason why cell theory was probably developed at this time?
p. 23 Why was it important for Schleiden and Schwann's theory that all cells were produced by an identical process?
p. 24 How is this related to the ideas of Naturphilosophie? What does Coleman mean that "empirical evidence and lofty doctrine were partners in cell theory"? What would you guess was Schleiden's position on the question of discrete Linnaean species vs. a Lamarckian "unitarianism" in nature?
p. 25 Does the "undifferentiated mucouslike fluid" (Urschleim, "primitive slime") of Oken sound at all similar to Schwann's cytoblastema?
p. 28 What mechanism did Schwann claim was responsible for the formation of all cells?
pp. 29-30 What were the views of Henle and Kölliker on Schwann's cytoblastema theory? It is interesting to note that a majority of British biologists also felt this way, with the at first quite rare exception of John Goodsir. Virchow was also a member of this camp until at least 1849, though you might never guess that from Coleman's description of him on p. 32.
p. 32 What role did Virchow play vis a vis the cytoblastema hypothesis? What did his claim "omnis cellula a cellula" have to do with pathology? Note that many in British pathology and physiology continued to oppose Virchow's view and support a cytoblastema-based explanation of pathology through the 1860s, especially John Hughes Bennett.
Cuvier, excerpts 1-27 and 29-30 from "Preliminary Discourse" (1812) 1° source
Why was it necessary for Cuvier to study living animals in order to understand fossils?
What does the mention of a Newton of Natural History refer to?
What does Cuvier mean by a revolution of the globe?
What are the implications of the claim that there were many revolutions?
What presently active causes shape the surface of the earth?
Are those causes sufficient to explain the revolutions of the globe?
What is the importance of fossil bones for geology?
How does comparative anatomy help to identify fossil bones?