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Charles Darwin's 201st birthday celebrated with series of events, February 12 - April 22, 2010

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—The 201st birthday of Charles Darwin will begin at Vassar College on Friday, February 12, with a series of six lectures, demonstrations, and a Victorian tea, presented by Vassar professors and students from 12:00 to 5:00pm in the Aula, Ely Hall. The first of three dramatic presentations about 19th- and 20th-century women scientists, whose inspired work changed the way the world viewed women and science, will follow at 7:00pm in the Martel Theater in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film. The Darwin Days dramatic series focuses on three exemplars of their fields, Mary Anning, Maria Mitchell, and Rachel Carson, who explored the earth, sky, and sea—the natural world around us. Their discoveries continue to inspire and resonate today.
 
The first dramatic presentation on February 12 will be Blue Lias: or the Fish Lizard’s Whore, written and performed by alumna Claudia Stevens ’69, and depicting the life of 19th-century fossil hunter Mary Anning. Maria Mitchell: Self Portrait, celebrating the life and achievements of Vassar's first professor, written by Barbara Gibbins Duffy ’51, will be given a dramatic reading by stage, film, and television star Frances Sternhagen on Monday, March 1. On Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, the series will conclude with the presentation of the play A Sense of Wonder, about the life and work of noted environmentalist and author Rachel Carson, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee. All these programs will begin at 7:00pm and will be held in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film’s Martel Theater.
 
The International Darwin Day Foundation noted that: “Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around February 12, the day that Charles Darwin was born on in 1809. Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin – the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor. More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity.” (http://www.darwinday.org)
 
Last year was the first celebration of Darwin Days at the college and this year's events will continue to broaden communication between the science and non-science communities at Vassar.
 
All events are free and open to the public, with no reservations necessary. Seating is on a first-come, first served basis.
 

Darwin Days 2010 at Vassar College

 
Beginning at noon on Friday, February 12, there will be six presentations by Vassar professors and students, as well as “Emma Darwin’s Tea,” presented by students from the Victorian Studies program in the Ely Hall’s Aula. Each of the lectures will elucidate the world and legacy of Charles Darwin.
 
Anne Pike-Tay, professor and chair of the Anthropology Department, will discuss “Charles Darwin and his Dangerous Idea,” from 12:00 to 12:45pm. Pike-Tay is a paleoanthropologist specializing in zooarchaeological analyses and seasonality studies of fauna  from Middle and Upper Paleolithic and more recent prehistoric sites in Europe, as well as Middle Paleolithic-aged sites in Tasmania.
 
Erica Crespi, assistant professor of biology on the Mary Clark Rockefeller Chair in Environmental Studies at Vassar, students from her biology lab, and Robin Warne, faculty research associate, will present the “Lessons of Evolution Through the Eyes of Amphibians and Lizards,” from 12:45 to 1:45pm.
 
“Caribbean Shrimps and the Sponges that Harbor them,” will be the topic of the next lecture, from 1:45 to 2:15pm by Kristin Hultgren, adjunct assistant professor of biology.
 
Mid-way through the presentations, from 2:15 to 3:00pm, students from the Victorian Studies Program will present “Emma Darwin’s Tea.” All are invited to “refresh your spirit with a genuine Victorian tea,” with recipes drawn from Mrs. Darwin’s cookbook.
 
Three additional lectures will be offered following the tea. Margaret Ronsheim, assistant professor of biology, will discuss the “Evolution of Sex and the Balance of Good and Evil,” from 3:00 to 3:45pm. Ronsheim’s research focuses on how the interactions between plants, mutualistic mycorrhizal fungi and fungal pathogens may affect the evolution of plant reproduction and dispersal mechanisms.
 
Susan Zlotnick, associate professor of English, will discuss “Mary Anning’s Lyme Regis, England- A Travelogue,” from 3:45 to 4:15pm. Anning is the inspiration for the evening’s dramatic performance as well as for two new books: The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World by Shelley Emling (Palgrave Macmillan) and Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (Dutton).
 
The final lecture of the day in the Aula will be given by Mark Schlessman, professor of biology, who describes himself as “an evolutionary biologist who loves plants." He will discuss “Botany on the Beagle:  The Galapagos Flora and Darwin's Concept of Evolution.”
 
The dramatic performance on February 12 of Blue Lias: or the Fish Lizard's Whore, written and performed by Claudia Stevens ’69, with music composed by Allen Shearer, will be the first of three Darwin Day dramatic readings and presentations. The program will begin at 7:00pm in the Martel Theater in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film. Stevens will convey the story of Mary Anning, a 19th-century British fossil hunter and paleontologist, credited with discovery of the first fossils of Ichthyosaurus. Anning received little recognition from England's male-dominated scientific community for her research during her lifetime. Through both a musical and dramatic performance, using letters and impressions of Anning by her contemporaries, Stevens enriches the depiction of complex and significant characters and issues in the history of science. Vassar faculty member Lydia Murdoch, director of the Women's Studies Program and history professor, will give introductory remarks.
 
Trained as a pianist, singer, musicologist, and composer, Stevens is a visiting scholar in music at the College of William and Mary and has also taught at Williams College. As a pianist, she championed the music of Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, and Elliott Carter, through performances at Carnegie Recital Hall (New York Composers’ Forum production) and other leading venues, and was the featured artist in several “Performance Today” broadcasts on National Public Radio. Allen Shearer, the recipient of the Aaron Copland Award and residency, Prix de Rome, a Charles Ives scholarship, and several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, including one for his first opera, The Goddess, composed the music for Blue Lias.

The next reading in the series will be on Monday, March 1, at 7:00pm, and will feature noted actress and Vassar alumna Frances Sternhagen '51, who returns to the stage of the Martel Theater to breathe life into a depiction of Vassar's first professor, astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818-1889). Maria Mitchell: Self Portrait, written by Sternhagen's classmate Barbara Gibbins Duffy '51, has been performed just once before, by Sternhagen, on Nantucket Island. During this reading, Sternhagen will celebrate the life and achievement of this groundbreaking scientist whose academic and professional home was found at Vassar College. Jenny Magnes, assistant professor of physics, will give the introduction to the reading.
 
“My play is based on text drawn from the book, Maria Mitchell: A Life in Journals and Letters, that was edited by Henry Albers, and used with his permission. For 32 years he was professor of astronomy at Vassar College and occupied the Alumnae Maria Mitchell Chair,” noted author Duffy. “Professor Albers died in March, 2009, and this reading is dedicated to his memory.” She noted that additional material for the play was drawn from the Vassar College Archives and Special Collections Department and the Maria Mitchell Association Archives.

Matthew Vassar hired astronomer Mitchell for his new college and constructed an observatory for her, the first building completed on campus that is now a National Historic Landmark. Mitchell was highly regarded for her discovery in 1857 of what would become known worldwide as 'Miss Mitchell's Comet,' the result of systematically sweeping the Nantucket skies with her telescope each evening. For this discovery she received a gold medal from the King of Denmark and was elected into the membership of Boston's Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1847. The telescope she used while at Vassar  is now a focal point of the collection of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
 
Sternhagen, a familiar presence on stage, television, and film, may be most familiar for her television roles as Bunny MacDougal (Trey's mother) in HBO's Sex and the City or Kyra Sedgwick's mother Willie Ray Johnson on The Closer (appearing with fellow Vassar alumnus Jon Tenney '84). She is also a familiar presence on stage, and has received two Tonys (nominated for five), two Obies, and two Drama Desks, and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and honored, in 2007, with the Helen Hayes Tribute. Last year, she was the recipient of the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College 2009 Distinguished Achievement Award.
 
Duffy is a 1951 graduate of Vassar and a summer resident of Nantucket Island, Maria Mitchell's birthplace.

Kaiulani Lee will return to the Vassar campus to reprise her role as Rachel Carson in A Sense of Wonder on Earth Day, April 22, in the third and final performance of the 2010 dramatic series. This program will also begin at 7:00pm in the Martel Theater, and is presented by Darwin Days and co-sponsored by the Vassar Greens. Erica Crespi, Biology, the Mary Clark Rockefeller Chair of Environmental Studies, will introduce the performance.
 
The story of one woman's love for the natural world and her fight to defend it, A Sense of Wonder, written and performed by Lee, provides an intimate glimpse into the life of Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring, alerted the world to the dangers of chemical pesticides. Carson is credited with launching the environmental movement for which she has been called "the patron saint." She was a marine biologist and zoologist as well as one of America's great poets of the natural world. In her earlier works she brought alive the beauty and the mystery of the seas and its creatures for millions of readers.

Kaiulani Lee has over 30 years of experience in theater, film, and television. She has starred in more than a dozen plays on and off-Broadway and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award on Broadway and has received an OBIE Award for outstanding achievement off-Broadway. Her play, A Sense of Wonder, created with the help and guidance of Carson's friends and colleagues and with permission from the Rachel Carson Estate, has been touring the United States as well as Canada, England, and Italy for over ten years. In 2009, a version of the play was released as a film featuring Lee, and was screened at 175 cities across North America.
 
The Darwin Day dramatic readings are presented by the Darwin Days Committee, which consists of Vassar faculty and staff from disciplines all over campus and co-sponsored by the Drama Department. Funds for this series are provided by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.
 
Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations at Vassar should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. Directions to the Vassar campus are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.
 
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Darwin Day at Vassar College
Schedule of Events
February 12, 2010
Ely Hall, Aula
·       12:00-12:45pm: “Charles Darwin and His Dangerous Idea,” Anne Pike-Tay (anthropology)                          
·       12:45-1:45pm: “Lessons of Evolution Through the Eyes of Amphibians and Lizards,” Robin Warne and Vassar students from Erica Crespi’s Lab (biology)     
·       1:45-2:15pm: “Caribbean Shrimps and the Sponges that Harbor them,” Kristin Hultgren (biology)
·       2:15- 3:00pm: “Emma Darwin’s Tea: Refresh your Spirit with a Genuine Victorian Tea,” students from the Victorian Studies Program
·       3:00-3:45pm: “Evolution of Sex and the Balance of Good and Evil,” Margaret Ronsheim (biology)             
·       3:45-4:15pm: “Mary Anning’s Lyme Regis, England- A Travelogue,” Susan Zlotnick (English)
·       4:15-5:00pm: “Botany on the Beagle:  The Galapagos Flora and Darwin's Concept of Evolution,” Mark Schlessman (biology)
 
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Martel Theater
·       7:00pm: Blue Lias: or the Fish Lizard’s Whore, written and performed by Claudia Stevens ’69            
 
March 1, 2010
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Martel Theater
·       7:00pm: Maria Mitchell: Self Portrait, by Barbara Gibbins Duffy ’51, read by Frances Sternhagen ’51
 
April 22, 2010
Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Martel Theater
·       7:00pm: A Sense of Wonder, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, January 5, 2010