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From Man to Ape

Darwinism in Argentina, 1870-1920

Upon its publication, The Origin of Species was critically embraced in Europe and North America. But how did Darwin’s theories fare in other regions of the world? Adriana Novoa and Alex Levine offer here a history and interpretation of the reception of Darwinism in Argentina, illuminating the ways culture shapes scientific enterprise.

In order to explore how Argentina’s particular interests, ambitions, political anxieties, and prejudices shaped scientific research, From Man to Ape focuses on Darwin’s use of analogies. Both analogy and metaphor are culturally situated, and by studying scientific activity at Europe’s geographical and cultural periphery, Novoa and Levine show that familiar analogies assume unfamiliar and sometimes startling guises in Argentina. The transformation of these analogies in the Argentine context led science—as well as the interaction between science, popular culture, and public policy—in surprising directions. In diverging from European models, Argentine Darwinism reveals a great deal about both Darwinism and science in general.

Novel in its approach and its subject, From Man to Ape reveals a new way of understanding Latin American science and its impact on the scientific communities of Europe and North America.

296 pages | 5 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2010

History: Latin American History

History of Science

Latin American Studies


“From Man to Ape is first and foremost a fascinating read and a mine of details about the history of Argentina and the development of scientific (and scientistic) thinking there, but it is also much more. It tracks the reception of Darwinian theory in an area ‘peripheral’ to Western Europe, and in so doing gives us in essence a Darwinian history of Darwinism, demonstrating how the tropes and representations that are the idioms of scientific knowledge were molded to the particular circumstances of Argentina and the cultural contingencies of a young society on the receiving end of modern science.  It also outlines more broadly and suggestively the relationship of biology to politics in the Latin American societies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where nation building was so closely tied up with questions of race, ethnicity, and modernization.”

Eric Van Young, University of California, San Diego

“This attempt to track the reception of Darwin in Argentina is a clear invitation to rethink the models that still operate in the writing of history of science in Latin America, but also to question the concept of peripheral science.”

Irina Podgorny, Museo de La Plata, Argentina, and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

“This is an original and significant book that explores the reworking of Darwinian theory by Argentine thinkers in the second half of the nineteenth century and narrates the impact of Darwinism on the intellectual and social milieu of Argentina during that period. From Man to Ape is a sound piece of scholarly work, a well-researched and tightly argued book, which marshals quite an impressive amount of sources and deploys an engaging narrative to support a thesis which should be of interest to historians and philosophers of science alike.”­—Miguel de Asúa, Universidad Nacional de San Martín

Miguel de Asua, Universidad Nacional de San Martin

“A tour de force. This is by far the most sophisticated book-length account of the reception of Darwinism in one country.”

Thomas F. Glick, Boston University

Table of Contents


Part I
1. The Roots of Evolutionary Thought in Argentina
2. The Reception of Darwinism in Argentina
3. The Triumph of Darwinism in Argentina

Part II
4. The Culture of Extinction
5. Sexual Selection and the Politics of Mating
6. Evolutionary Psychology and Its Analogies

Works Cited

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