Friday, 10 May 2013

Wanted: the history of cultural evolution

I wrote about the history of cultural evolution in my 2011 book. Later parts of that material was expanded into the Memetics Timeline. However, the story as I told it is rather abbreviated. There have been various review articles and book paragraphs that have given an overview of the history of the field - e.g. Laland and Brown (2004) and Blackmore (1999) - but the field is still lacking a substantial history.

There's now a long trail of academic papers and books on the topic. We have biographies of some of the players - e.g. Dennett, Dawkins, Skinner, Darwin and Price. Someone should put all the pieces together and write a history of the field.

It's true that the field is still in flux - but it might stay that way for a while. Scientific historians should not be too deterred by history still being in the making.

Though I produced the Memetics Timeline, I should say that scientific history isn't really my area. I don't plan to write the history of the field in much more detail than I already have. I think that it is time for someone else to have a go at the topic.

Related post: Wanted: a book on the evidence for cultural evolution

Update 2015-05-10: Brent Jesiek's 110 page MSc thesis presents a comprehensive history of memetics. It mostly concentrates on the period from 1975 to 2003. It is available free of charge online - to ResearchGate members.

Jesiek, Brent K. (2003) Betwixt the Popular and Academic: The Histories and Origins of Memetics.

I think it is interesting to compare and contrast this effort with my own Memetics Timeline - which was produced independently.

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