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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Emergence and Contingency/Purpose/Agency:
An Exploration of an Intersection Between
History and Biology/Neurobiology



The most important and assured outcome of the proposed work is an enhanced awareness in each of the two collaborators of perspectives, observations, and methodologies familiar to the other.  We are confident this will evolve continuously over the semester of working together, and expect it to continue evolving through subsequent interactions based on our work together during the semester.  Whatever the more specific outcomes, we are confident that each of us will get from the interaction understandings that will permanently affect our scholarly work (Burke understandings of biological and neurobiological characteristics of humans that influence their collective behaviors; Grobstein understandings of collective behaviors that influence the biology and neurobiology of humans).

We plan to conduct our discussions of selected books both in person and in written conversation, yielding for each a "dialogue" on that book that we will post on the web (see so that it constitutes available material for wider public conversation.  The web materials will be prepared as we complete the discussion of each book and appear on the web regularly during the semester.  We plan also to create a web site outlining the rationale for our effort to develop relevant new observations and to update this regularly during the semester as observations are collected and new understandings/questions emerge.  During the semester we expect also to make occasional reports of our progress to the emergence working group of the Center for Science in Society at Bryn Mawr College ( in which we both participate.  We would, in addition, look forward to preparing a report of the results of our collaboration for the Mellon New Directions program.

We hope, by the end of the semester, to have made sufficient progress to warrant the undertaking of a co-authored paper outlining the concerns motivating the proposed project and our progress in addressing those concerns.  Such a paper would be directed to an interdisciplinary audience familiar with the emergent systems perspective and completed within six months of the end of the semester.  Additional papers, singly or co-authored, might also be appropriate for more targeted audiences in history and/or biology/neurobiology.  We expect also to be able to evaluate our observational pilot projects and make informed plans for future work of this kind. 

We expect that the collaboration will impact substantially on our respective approaches in existing courses, in both history and biology/neurobiology.  Depending on the success of the collaboration, we can imagine that a new course, on the concepts of agency/purpose/contingency as viewed from historical and biological/neurobiological perspectives, might emerge. 


Submitted as a Mellon New Directions Fellowship Program Application, 9/2003

Tim Burke, Department of History, Swarthmore College,


Paul Grobstein, Department of Biology, Bryn Mawr College



Project and Significance

Outcomes and Timetable

Personal Statements

Materials Cited

Book List

Pilot Observational Projects

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