R. Allen Bolar

Political theory, history of political thought (especially early modern and nineteenth century), history of science, democratic theory, identity politics, politics and scientific communication.

Dissertation Title:

There's Power in the Blood: Slavery, Racial Identity, and the Politics of Darwinism


My research focuses on America’s relationship to Darwinian evolution.  I argue that scholars have inadequately viewed Americans’ beliefs about evolution to be the product of religious reaction or educative failure.  A fuller interpretation would pay attention to the role that politics has played.  In the nineteenth century, Darwinian evolution became intertwined with scientific discussions about race and became associated with the politics of radical Republicanism after the Civil War. These “political controversies” provided the lenses through which citizens viewed scientists and educators who engaged with Darwinian evolution. Though natural history had previously formed part of slavery’s defense, natural history became associated with abolitionists and became distasteful to the southern planters, who had previously appealed to the mantle of scientific authority. This dissertation examines the incentives that people have to value religious and scientific authority, the way that citizens acquire knowledge, and the role of partisanship in explaining citizens’ trust in scientific communication and education.


Alan C. Houston (chair), Tracy Strong, Harvey Goldman, Gerry Mackie, Charles Thorpe (Sociology)