A Tale of Two Worksites

By Gould, Stephen Jay | Natural History, October 1997 | Go to article overview

A Tale of Two Worksites


Gould, Stephen Jay, Natural History


Christopher Wren, the leading architect of London's reconstruction after the great fire of 1666, lies buried beneath the floor of his most famous building, Saint Paul's Cathedral. No elaborate sarcophagus adorns the site. Instead, we find only the famous epitaph written by his son and now inscribed in the floor: si monumentum requiris, circumspice-"if you are searching for his monument, look around." A tad grandiose perhaps, but I have never read a finer testimony to the central importance-one might even say sacrednessof actual places, rather than replicas, symbols, or other forms of vicarious resemblance.

An odd coincidence of professional life recently turned my thoughts to this most celebrated epitaph when, for the second time, I received an office in a spot loaded with history, a place still redolent with ghosts of past events both central to our common culture and especially meaningful for my own life and choices.

In 1971, I spent an academic term as a visiting researcher at Oxford University. I received a cranny of office space on the upper floor of the University Museum. As I set up my books, fossil snails, and microscope, I noticed a metal plaque affixed to the wall, informing me that this reconfigured space of shelves and cubicles had been, originally, the site of the most famous public confrontation in the early history of Darwinism. On this very spot in 1860, just a few months after Darwin published the Origin of Species, T. H. Huxley had drawn his rhetorical sword and soundly skewered the slick but superficial champion of creationism Bishop "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce.

As with most legends, the official version ranks as mere cardboard before a much more complicated and multifaceted truth. Wilberforce and Huxley did put on a splendid and largely spontaneous show, but no clear victor emerged from the scuffle, and Joseph Hooker, Darwin's other champion, made an even more effective reply to the bishop, since forgotten by history. (See my May 1986 essay, "Knight Takes Bishop?")

I can't claim that the lingering presence of these Victorian giants increased my resolve or improved my work, but I loved the sense of continuity vouchsafed to me by this happy circumstance. I even treasured the etymology-for "circumstance" means "standing around," and there I stood, perhaps in the very spot where Huxley had said, at least according to legend, that he preferred an honest ape to a bishop who would use his privileged position to inject scorn and ridicule into a serious scientific debate.

Last year, I received a part-time appointment as visiting research professor of biology at New York University. I was given an office on the tenth floor of the Brown Building on Washington Place, a nondescript, early-twentieth-century structure now filled with laboratories and other academic spaces. As the dean took me on a casual tour of my new digs, he made a passing remark, intended as little more than tour-guide patter, but producing an electric effect upon his new tenant. Did I know, he asked, that this building had been the site of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911? My office occupied a corner location on one of the affected floors-in fact, as I later discovered, right near the escape route used by many workers to reach safety on the roof above. The dean also told me that each year on the March 25 anniversary of the fire, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union still holds a ceremony at the site and lays wreaths to memorialize the 146 workers killed in the blaze.

If the debate between Huxley and Wilberforce defines a primary legend of my chosen profession, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occupies an even more central place in my larger view of life. I grew up in a family of Jewish immigrant garment workers, and this holocaust (in the literal meaning of a thorough sacrifice by burning) had set their views and helped to define their futures.

The shirtwaist-a collared blouse designed after the model of a man's shirt and worn above a separate skirt-had become the fashionable symbol of more independent women. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Tale of Two Worksites
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.