Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Missing Link


This course explores the history of the "missing link," an intermediate evolutionary form between humans and apes. We will consider famous hoaxes such as the Piltdown Man, and films and stories such as King Kong and Planet of the Apes, as well as serious scientific work such as that of Eugène Dubois, the paleoanthropologist and geologist who discovered Homo erectus (first called Java Man and then Pithecanthropus erectus) and first developed the notion of a missing link. We will take an interest not only in scientific aspects of missing-link theories but in their accompanying political, social and cultural implications. More broadly, we will consider the history of evolutionary science and debates surrounding the evolutionary place of human beings in the natural world. And we'll watch some classic monster films.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Jessica Riskin

"In high school, I was planning to be a physics major. Once I got to college, I spent a lot of time moving around among science, history and philosophy classes and changing my mind about what I wanted to major in, until finally I figured out a way not to have to choose: by majoring in the history of science. I've been working in that field ever since, from an undergrad honors thesis on the history of evolutionary theories of language, to a dissertation and first book on science and politics in the 18th century, to another book on the history of scientific models of life. And now I am returning to the history of evolutionary science. Also, an added note: I'm especially excited to teach a freshman seminar in 2019-2020 since, although I can hardly believe it, my son has just finished his freshman year of college and my daughter is applying to colleges this year."