Dr Matthew Eddy
Dr Matthew D. Eddy is Durham University's Senior Lecturer in the history of science and culture and is a member of the Wellcome Trust's Northern Centre for the History of Medicine. His research focuses on seventeenth- to nineteenth-century forms of scientific argumentation, as well as early modern philosophies of religion, mind, memory and language. Within these conceptual groupings, he has written about a number of topics relevant to the historical foundations of ethics and cultural notions of heritage. He is particularly interested in the changing understanding of geochronology and human origins from the seventeenth century onwards. Part of his latest book, The Language of Mineralogy (2008), for example, explores the geological and philosophical assumptions that framed the emergence of archaeology and anthropology during the Scottish Enlightenment. It also reveals how the practices of natural history, medicine and natural philosophy had a particularly strong impact on theoretical structure ofconcepts like ‘time', ‘species', human nature and even the very nomenclatural terms assigned to natural objects that were used to understand the cultural heritage of Britain and its colonies.
Dr Eddy's expertise in the cultural heritage of science recently led the Royal Society of London to ask him to plan a conference entitled Prehistoric Minds: Cultures of Nineteenth Century Human Origins. This event was inspired by the fact that, though the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 is often treated as a watershed event within the history of the human sciences, the book did not clearly spell out how his evolutionary views applied to the theories and practices being used by contemporary naturalists to understand human origins. This effectively left nascent paleoarchaeologists and paleoanthropologists to their own devices and they continued to use previously existing evolutionary frameworks and cultural assumptions to interpret what they believed to be the artefacts and anatomy of early humans. One of the concerns of such theories, as well as for Darwin's published work in the 1870s, was to posit plausible attributes of early human ‘minds' which could be used to interpret the various types of prehistoric evidence provided by the emerging fields of archaeology, anthropology and ethnology. This conference investigates the contemporary reception and relevance of such attempts by looking at the types of evidence (symbols, skulls, tools, etc.), methods (transmutational, developmental, sexual, etc.) and models (monogenist, polygenist, etc.), that were used by ‘pre', ‘pro' and ‘anti' Darwinian scientists, travellers and colonial administrators to construct prehistoric minds. In addition to addressing a fascinating subject that connects with a rising interest in the contemporary relevance meaning of human prehistory, this topic corresponds to the 150th anniversary of the Origin's publication, as well as the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. It will not only shed more light upon Darwin's views on the matter, but also on how pre- and post-1859 concepts of evolution were, or were not, used to discern mental attributes from artefacts and to postulate interpretive frameworks that were then applied key concepts like race, gender and even morality in ancient human populations. The essays that result from the conference will be published as themed journal issue, most likely in Notes and Records of the Royal Society.
In addition to the above interests, Dr Eddy is a Council member of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry and an editorial board member of Ambix, the society's journal. Major honours include research fellowships awarded by MIT, Harvard, the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Clark Library (UCLA), as well as a Mellon Foundation visiting professorship awarded by California Institute of Technology. With David M. Knight, he has also edited William Paley's Natural Theology (2006; reissued 2008) and a collection of essays entitled Science and Beliefs (2005). He is currently editing a volume on the history science and print cultures that will be published in Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science,and he is writing a book that addresses how print and visual culture affected anthropological and philosophical conceptions of the human mind during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.