Harvard Summer Program in Oxford, England
“There is grandeur to this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
— Charles Darwin from The Origin of Species
Study evolutionary biology at one of the major sites of the Darwinian revolution: Oxford University.
Charles Darwin’s great insight—evolution—lies at the heart of all of biology. But it’s much more than just a biological idea. Our understanding of who we are as individuals and as a species is critically informed by evolution. As such, the conceptual transformation from created-in-the-image-of-God to modified ape is surely the single most seismic shift in the history of ideas.
The program is based in Oxford, a famous university town that embraces old and new. The buildings may be 700 years old, but the ideas discussed within them are twenty-first century. The presence of the past—in the college architecture, winding medieval streets, and strange, antiquated university rituals—serves as a constant reminder of what we owe to the thinkers who came before. Isaac Newton famously observed that he had seen further than other men “by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” In Oxford, you will have visceral sense of the presence of those giants.
Oxford itself played a role in the Darwinian revolution. The famous debate between Thomas Henry Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford, took place in the university museum. It ended with Huxley’s triumphant put-down: “If then the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.”
The program offers you the the opportunity to explore Darwin’s heritage both in the classroom at Oxford and in context throughout the United Kingdom. Your coursework is enriched with visits to many sites related to Charles Darwin, including Down House, Darwin’s home in Kent; the Natural History Museum in London, the brainchild of Richard Owen, Darwin’s most vocal critic; the Linnean Society in London, where the joint Darwin-Wallace paper on evolution was delivered; and Shrewsbury, where Darwin grew up and attended school.
BIOS S-112 Study Abroad at Oxford: Darwin and the Origins of Evolutionary Biology (32400)
This course reviews the history of thought on evolution from its mythic beginnings through the theories of Charles Darwin. Starting with creation stories from around the world, the course then examines the seeds of evolutionary thinking in classical times and the critical intellectual input of scientists in post-revolutionary France, all of which place the Darwin-Wallace insight in its historical context. To best understand each thinker and his or her intellectual milieu, the course takes an explicitly biographical approach, exploring the interactions among an individual's life story, political and social situation, and thought. While the emphasis is on scientists, particularly geologists and biologists, the course also reviews the role that social, political, economic, and philosophical thinkers—such as Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, and Thomas Malthus—played in the development of evolutionary theory. The Darwin-Wallace theory itself is reviewed in detail, and its political, social, and theological ramifications are discussed in the context of the reception of The Origin of Species.
BIOS S-113 Study Abroad at Oxford: Darwin and Contemporary Evolutionary Biology (32401)
This course examines the history of evolutionary biology in the post-Darwinian world. Like Darwin and the Origins of Evolutionary Biology, it takes a historical approach, following strands of thought either introduced or ignored by Darwin in The Origin of Species through to the present. To take one example, several lectures are dedicated to genetics in evolutionary biology: students review Darwin's rather weak understanding of genetics; the controversies surrounding the reconciliation of Mendelism and Darwinism in the early years of the twentieth century; the eventual rapprochement in the so-called "modern synthesis" of evolutionary biology; the development of inclusive fitness arguments that addressed Darwin's concerns about the evolution of altruism; the impact of molecular approaches on our understanding of evolutionary processes; and the neutral theory of molecular evolution. The course covers basic population genetics, speciation, the relationship between micro- and macroevolution, paleobiology, phylogenetic reconstruction, behavioral ecology/sociobiology, and human evolution.
Where You Live and Study
Oxford is a lively, student-oriented city, even during the summer. Much of the center is restricted to pedestrians, and the area—including the university—is small enough to explore thoroughly on foot. In addition, Oxford is well linked by public transportation to London (about an hour away), making it an ideal base for activities related to the curriculum and personal exploration throughout the south of England.
You live in undergraduate rooms at Queen’s College, located in the medieval heart of Oxford. Accommodations are simply furnished, single-occupancy rooms. Bathroom facilities are shared. Social spaces within Queen’s are available for use. Classes take place at Queen’s College.
How to Apply
Review How to Apply before submitting your application.
Application materials include:
- A statement of interest in the program
- Include information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite)
- Harvard College applicants: You may submit an unofficial transcript accessed from my.harvard.edu
- Non-Harvard applicants: Submit an official transcript from your university
- A $50 nonrefundable application fee
Note: Interviews may be requested.
The program fee includes tuition, accommodation, scheduled excursions and activities, and some meals.
See Payment and Funding for information on how to submit payments and funding options.
In addition to the program fee, you will need to budget for a number of personal expenses:
- International airfare ($1,300 to $1,600)
- Local transportation ($150)
- Some meals ($1,000)
- Course materials ($65)
- Personal expenditures, laundry, communications, and miscellaneous ($300)
Note: The amounts are approximate, and you may incur additional expenses not listed here. Your actual expenses will depend on a number of factors, including your personal spending habits and currency exchange rates. If you have specific questions about budgeting, please contact the program directly.
- Andrew Berry, PhD, Assistant Head Tutor and Lecturer on Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University