My research focuses on the intersection between evolutionary biology and political behavior. Darwin's 1859 theory of natural selection was infused with political meaning for both naturalists and political activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The industrial revolution and ascendancy of the laissez faire capitalist state upended the social structures that had existed for centuries resulting in vast inequalities and a growing class of urban poor. For the marginalized and oppressed in England, Europe, and Russia the science of evolution undermined the authority of church and state, revealing a natural world that was in constant flux as organisms adapted to a changing environment. The "great chain of being" that dictated a natural hierarchy of order was now destroyed and the future human ecosystem was within each individual's ability to create. However, for those in positions of privilege, using biological theory as a basis to upend the existing social order was a dangerous development that had to be crushed. For them, evolution justified the status quo and promoted a competitive ethic of individual vs. individual and nation vs. nation with the most "fit" rising to the top of the hierarchy.
The evolution of cooperation became the intellectual battleground between these conflicting political forces that was best articulated by the Russian naturalist and anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his Darwinian theory of mutual aid. Following Kropotkin's journey from prince and celebrated naturalist to dangerous radical on the run across Europe, my project is a transnational history that details how popular social movements led to a political conflict over who would control Darwin's ideas. The nineteenth century emphasis on Darwinian competition, rather than cooperation, was the outcome of a political struggle and not, as has largely been assumed by critics of the theory, an inherent feature of natural selection. My study connects modern approaches in the history of science with the growing literature on the history of social movements and combines their methodologies to address key issues about the social fabric within which scientific ideas are generated.
Johnson, E.M. (2015). "Demographics, Inequality and Entitlements in the Russian Famine of 1891," Slavonic and East European Review 93(1): 96-119. (link) (pdf)
Johnson, E.M., 2014, “Sympathy, Empathy and the Evolution of Darwin's Moral Sense,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society. (submitted)
Johnson, E.M. and Hawks, J. (2011). "Comment: Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits," Nature 471: 216-219 #19364. (link)
MacLean, E., Barrickman, N.L., Johnson, E.M., Wall, C.E. (2008). "Sociality, Ecology and Relative Brain Size in Lemurs," Journal of Human Evolution 56(5): 471-478. (pdf)
Johnson, E.M. (2008). "Career or Family?: Maternal Style and Status-Seeking Behavior in Captive Bonobos (Pan paniscus)," American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135(S46): 126.
Johnson, E.M. (2007). "Lack of Inbreeding Avoidance and Reduction of Alliance Formation in Matrilineally-Housed Bonobos (Pan paniscus)," American Journal of Physical Anthropology 132(S44): 137.
Johnson, E.M. (2014) “Fire Over Ahwahnee: John Muir and the Decline of Yosemite,” Scientific American, August 13. (link)
Johnson, E.M. (2013) “Promiscuity is Pragmatic: Why women and other female primates seek out multiple partners,” Slate, December 4. (link)
Johnson, E.M. (2012). "Recovering the Role of Labor in Environmental History," Studies in the History of Biology 4(1): 112-113. (pdf)
Johnson, E.M. (2012). Cover Article, "Women and Children First," Times Higher Education 2,041: 38-43. (pdf) (link)
Johnson, E.M. (2012). “Freedom to Riot: On the Evolution of Collective Violence,” in Zivkovic, B. & Ouelette, J. (eds.) The Best Science Writing Online 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 157-167. (link)
Johnson, E.M. (2011). "The Evolution of Group Selection," Studies in the History of Biology 3(4): 139-141. (pdf)
Johnson, E.M. (2011). Cover Article, "Ariel Casts Out Caliban," Times Higher Education 1,995: 34-39. (pdf) (link)
“Was the Russian Famine of 1891 a Malthusian Crisis?” Biennial Conference of the European Society for Environmental History: Munich, Germany, August 20-24, 2013.
“A Historical Epistemology of Empathy from Darwin to De Waal,” Quadrennial International Congress of History of Science, Technology, and Medicine: Manchester, England, July 21-28, 2013.
“An Ethnography of Mutual Aid,” Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science: Victoria, Canada, June 2-4, 2013.
"Mutual Aid, Nomogenesis, and Convergent Evolution in Soviet Biology," Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Annual Convention, Nov. 2012.
"The Paris Commune and the Struggle for Darwinism," European Society for the History of Science Annual Congress, Nov. 2012.
“Baltic Germans and the Construction of Evolutionary Theory in Russia,” Biannual Meeting of the Baltic Association of the History and Philosophy of Science: Vilnius, Lithuania, Oct. 4-6, 2012.
"Demographics, Entitlements and Inequality in the Russian famine of 1891," Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Feb. 2011. (link)
“Heart of the Commonwealth: The Impact of William Harvey’s Medical Science on the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes,” VISU History & Philosophy of the Biomedical Sciences, July 2008.
3QD Prize for Science, 2014. (link 1) (link 2)
Winning Poster: AAAS Social Sciences - Johnson, E.M. "Demographics, Entitlements and Inequality in the Russian famine of 1891," Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Feb. 2011. (pdf) (link 1) (link 2)
AAAS Philip Morrison Fellowship, 2011.
Four Year Doctoral Fellowship - University of British Columbia, 2010-2014.
Vienna International Summer University Fellowship, 2008.
Graduate Research Fellowship - Duke University, 2007-08.
Duke Biology Graduate Student Symposium Research Award, 2007.
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship – Honorable Mention, 2005-06.
Sessional Instructor: HIST 368, Section 921: Europe in the Nineteenth Century, University of British Columbia, May 13 – June 20, 2013
Guest Lecturer: “Generation of Monsters: Apes and Empire in the Age of Enlightenment,” University of British Columbia, HIST 102: World History: 1500-The Present – Dec. 1, 2011
Teaching Assistant: HIST 303: The Canadian West, University of British Columbia, Aug. 2010 - May 2011
Guest Lecturer: "Conservation and Indigenous Peoples in the US and Canada," University of British Columbia, HIST 303: The Canadian West - March 8, 2011.
Guest Lecturer: "US Cold War Nuclear Policy," University of British Columbia, HIST 402: Problems in International Relations - Oct. 26-28, 2010.
Guest Lecturer: "United States Indian Policy: 1776-1876," University of British Columbia, HIST 303: The Canadian West - Oct. 26-28, 2010.
Teaching Assistant: HIST 102: World History from 1500 to Twentieth Century, University of British Columbia, Aug. 2009 - May 2010.
Teaching Assistant: BAA 144L: Primate Field Biology, Duke University, Feb. - May 2008.
Teaching Assistant: BAA 171: Primate Sexuality, Duke University, Aug. - Dec 2007.
Guest Lecturer: "Philosophy and Human Evolution," Washington State University, ANTH 468: Sex, Evolution & Human Nature - Feb. 13, 2007.
Teaching Assistant: ANTH 468: Sex, Evolution & Human Nature, Washington State University, Aug. - May. 2006-7.