Adam Shapiro

National Science Foundation Research Scholar

2017 to 2018
Fellow in Residence

An Unfit Darwinist: Disability, Slander and America's First Evolution Trial

Public understanding of science, particularly evolution, has long been shaped by interpretations of its own history. Perceptions that biological evolution is opposed to many religious worldviews have shaped the practices of scientists and interpretations of their theories and also had a significant effect on the way science is taught and communicated to the wider public. In recent years, antievolution’s long history has itself become incorporated into the criteria that courts and school boards use in deciding STEM education policy. This project presents a major revision of the history of American reactions to evolution through the discovery and interpretation of a previously unknown event in American science—a 1924 trial involving a schoolteacher who lost his job because he allegedly espoused Darwinism. Coming a year before the famous prosecution of John Scopes in Tennessee, the lawsuit Domer v. Klink, et. al. in Lincoln, Nebraska was actually the first evolution trial in the United States. Because it received little attention at the time, this lawsuit has been omitted from accounts of America’s complicated debates over science education. Yet its discovery and interpretation is essential for recognizing how public understanding of science occurs, and how the history of science informs contemporary science policy. Moreover, exploration of the social factors that contributed to the Domer trial contributes to the broader study of science, technology and society by demonstrating new ways in which it intersects a broader American social history that considers issues of immigration, gender, disability, and labor.