Janet Browne

Janet Browne

Aramont Professor of the History of Science
Janet Browne

Areas of Research: History of Biology

Janet Browne’s interests range widely over the history of the life and earth sciences and natural history. She came to Harvard in 2006 and teaches a variety of courses on evolutionary history and the history of natural history. After a first degree in zoology she studied for a PhD in the history of science at Imperial College London, published as The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography (1983). She has spent many years studying the context of Charles Darwin’s work, first as associate editor of the early volumes of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, and then in a biography of Darwin that integrated his science with his life and times. A leading intention of the book was to explore the ways in which scientific knowledge was created, distributed and accepted, moving from private to public, as reflected in the two-volume structure of the work. The biography was received generously both in the UK and USA, and awarded several prizes, including the James Tait Black award for non-fiction in 2004, the W. H. Heinemann Prize from the Royal Literary Society, and the Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society. She is currently exploring the history of Darwin’s impact on popular culture from the time of his death to today.  She was based for many years at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London where she taught in the MA, MSc and undergraduate programs in the history of science, biology, and medicine. She has been president of both the British Society for the History of Science and the History of Science Society—curiously, not the first person to do so, but the first woman. She has an Honorary degree from her alma mater, Trinity College Dublin, 2009.

Curriculum Vitae

Photo for Publication

Recently Published


  • History of Science 138: Animals in History
  • History of Science 134: Nature on Display
  • History of Science 239: History of Biology
  • General Education 1048: Rethinking the Darwinian Revolution



Selected articles

  • ‘Inspiration to Perspiration: Francis Galton’s Hereditary Genius in Victorian Context’ in Darrin M. McMahon and Joyce E. Chaplin, eds. Genealogies of Genius  (Palgrave Macmillan 2015),
  • ‘Making Darwin: Biography and Changing Representations of Charles Darwin’ Journal of Interdisciplinary History 40 (2010) 347-373.
  • ‘Asa Gray and Charles Darwin: Corresponding Naturalists’ Harvard Papers in Botany 15 (2010): 209-220
  • ‘Looking at Darwin: Portraits and the Making of an Icon’ Isis 100 (2009): 542-570. Republished in German as as ‘Zur Erschaffung des protoypischen wissenschaftier im Fokus’ (Prototype of a Scientist) in Angela Schwartz ed. Streifall Evolution. Eine Kulturgeschichte (Bonlau verlag, 2017)
  •  'The Natural Economy of Households: Charles Darwin’s Account Books' in Aurora Torealis, Studies in the History of Science and Ideas, in honor of Tore Frängsmyr, edited Marco Beretta, Karl Grandin, Svante Lindqvist (Science History Publications, a division of Watson Publishing International LLC, Sagamore Beach, 2008), 87-110
  • ‘Constructing Darwinism in Literary Culture’ in Anne Julia Zweirlein (ed) Unmapped Countries: Biological Visions in Nineteenth Century Literature and Culture ( London Anthem Press, 2005), 55-70
  • Charles Darwin as a celebrity” Science in Context 16 (2003): 175-194
  • “Darwin in Caricature: A Study in the Popularisation and Dissemination of Evolution” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145 (2001): 496-509. Revised and reprinted in The Art of Evolution; Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture, ed. Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer, Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College Press, 2009.
  • “I could have retched all night: Charles Darwin and his body” in Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin, eds.,  Science Incarnate: Historical embodiments of Natural Knowledge (University of Chicago Press, 1998), 240-287.
  • Darwin and the face of Madness" in W.F. Bynum and Roy Porter, eds., The Anatomy of Madness (2 vols. London: Tavistock, 1985), vol. 1, 151-165.

Articles on Botany

  • Catesby’s World: England’ in The Curious Mister Catesby: A “truly ingenious” Naturalist explores New Worlds, eds E. Charles Nelson and David Elliott, Catesby Commemorative Trust (University of Georgia Press, 2013), 85-94.
  • "Botany for Gentlemen: Erasmus Darwin and The Loves of the Plants" Isis 80 (1989): 593--621.
  • "Biogeography and Empire," in Nicholas Jardine, James Secord and Emma Spary, eds., Cultures of Natural History: From Curiosity to Crisis, (Cambridge University Press, 1996), 305-21.
  • "Botany in the boudoir and garden: the Banksian context" in D. Miller, ed., Visions of Empire: voyages, botany, and representations of nature (Cambridge University Press, 1996), 153-172.   Reprinted 2010.

Contact Information

p: (617) 495-3550