The Shape of a Human Life

April 2012

Fiction and evolutionary biology are both narrative-making practices. Each relies on an ordered account of events or facts to establish the connections that create a compelling story. Importantly, too, fiction and evolutionary biology share topical territory: life history theory—the sector of evolutionary biology concerned with the way organisms allocate time and energy among growth, physical maintenance, and reproduction—addresses some of the same conflicts and negotiations that arise in literature, including how parents invest in children and what children strive to elicit from parents; the perils of crossing from juvenility into social and physical maturity; the dance of partnered reproduction; and the refiguring of a life once reproduction ends.

The proposed seminar brings together scholars from evolutionary biology and literature to explore areas of amplification and tension across disciplinary accounts of the life course, focusing on parent-offspring conflict, adolescence, the role of the individual, and non-reproductive identities. The exchange will be bi-directional, equipping humanists with tools to re-engage their texts from a life history perspective and outfitting scientists with an expanded understanding of what questions might be put to a biological data set.