BIO 293 Class Arrives Safe in London!

Greetings from London!  After an overnight flight from Newark to Heathrow, the spring 2019 BIO 293 class had our first busy day exploring London.  We took the tube from Heathrow airport to our neighborhood in Bloomsbury and left our luggage at the Acorn office.  We enjoyed a quick lunch in the park (what a perfect, gorgeous day!) and then hopped back on the tube to go to the Museum of London.  The students had each chosen a historical section of the museum to visit.  The Museum of London has sections devoted to: London Before London (450,000 BC – 50 AD), Roman London (50 – 410), Medieval London (410 – 1558), War, Plague and Fire (1550’s to 1660’s), Expanding City (1670’s to 1850’s), People’s City (1850’s to 1940’s) and World City (1950’s to today). The class had an hour to visit the museum and find something they were interested in within the historical sections that they had signed up for. Within their chosen section, each student picked an item to share with the class, and then presented on that item by linking it’s significance with the evolutionary themes and neuroscience concepts that we have been discussing in class.  We went through the museum together to listen to all of the student presentations. Although everyone was tired after the long trip and very little sleep, they did a fantastic job with their presentations and we had some great discussions about human nature and behavior.  When we finished at the museum we took a walk past St. Paul’s Cathedral and then headed back to the flats to get settled in.  We had a quick walking orientation to our neighborhood and then we split up to unpack, visit the grocery store, and find some dinner.  Everyone is ready for some rest but some of the class plans visit the British Museum since it is open late tonight.  Hopefully, after a relaxing evening and restful night we will all be ready for another full day tomorrow.  We will meet early in the morning and then head out for a “Darkest Victorian London” walk and a visit to Borough Market.  Cheers from London!

London, Here We Come!

The spring 2019 Darwin, London and Literature class has been working hard all semester as we prepare for our overseas adventure.  This week we had our last class meeting and reviewed our final trip details. In just a couple of  days we will reconvene at the airport in Newark and head to London.  Dr. Firenze and I are excited and inspired by the interesting theses that the students have developed, and we can’t wait to share London and Bruges with them.  Please check back for updates and to follow our our progress!

From London to Bruges to London

Greetings from London!  Yesterday we started our day by meeting up with the SUNY Broome LIT 296: London and Literature class in Russell Square for a quick group photo.  It was fun to meet up with our SUNY Broome colleagues here in London!  After that our class jumped on the tube and went to meet our guide, Dickens scholar, Dr. David Tucker, at the Temple tube stop.  Dr. Tucker led us on a walking tour of Dickens’ London, and for about three hours we learned about the life and influence of Charles Dickens, as well as the inspiration for many of his settings and characters in his novels.  Dr. Tucker helped us to see London through the eyes of Charles Dickens.  We were even given the special surprise privilege of being allowed to go inside of Middle Temple for a few minutes! The streets of London have really come alive for us during our walking tours this week.

Dr. Tucker left us at the Farringdon Station where we took the National Rail to St. Pancras Station.  Once at Saint Pancras, we got a quick lunch and boarded the Eurostar high speed train.  We traveled at about 300 kph (and 75 meters down under the English Channel) to Brussels in less than two hours! In Brussels we took a different train to the gorgeous city of Bruges.  It was easy to see why this city is known as the “Venice of the North”.  Bruges is one of the most well preserved medieval cities in Europe, and we all loved our visit there.  Wow.  It was just gorgeous and a lot of fun.

We checked into our hotel (Hotel Academie and then enjoyed dinner and explored the city streets until very late.  Today most of us were up early and saw many of the sites and attractions.  Some of the activities included a tour of the centuries old De Halve Maan Brewery, the Torture Museum Oude Steen (certainly a look at the darkest aspects of human nature), the Chocolate Museum, the Belgian Fry Museum, boat tours on the canals, art museums, shopping, chocolate, and delicious Belgian waffles.  What a wonderful day!!

At 3pm we met and headed back to the train station to return to Brussels and then London.  After dropping off our backpacks at the flats, we met at the Plough for our farewell dinner together.  Dr. Firenze stood on a chair so as to be sure to make the point that we all need to be packed and ready by 9 am tomorrow morning.  We will have a class session for final oral theses presentations in Russell Square, and then head straight to the airport around 11 am.  It is hard to believe that our time in London has come to a close and we will be back in Binghamton late Friday night (or very early Saturday morning).    It has been a really fun and exciting and enlightening week, and I am sure this trip and all the things we saw and did we will be remembered for a lifetime.  We certainly have a new appreciation for science and art and history, and how it all fits together in our fascinating and complex human nature.  Dr. Firenze and I look forward to reading the student’s final papers.  Thanks for following along with our adventures.  Cheers from London!


BIO 293: An Evening in Bruges

Greetings from Belgium! Today we had a walking tour of Dickens’ London and then we traveled to Bruges on the Eurostar. We arrived safely and we are enjoying an evening in beautiful Bruges. Please check back tomorrow for photos and a more detailed update!

At Home With Darwin and Dickens

Greetings from London!  It was quite a day of history and significance for our class. It is not every day that you can say you saw the desk where Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species AND the desk where Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations! That was today for us because we visited the homes of both Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.

In the morning we took a tube to Victoria Station, a train to Bromley South, and a bus to the village of Downe.  From the village center, we walked on leafy country roads to Down House, where Darwin lived with his family for forty years.  During our visit we had the opportunity to see the house and garden where Darwin worked on his theories of evolution and natural selection.  Down House is still very much as it was when Charles Darwin, his wife Emma, and their many children lived there.  We were in the rooms that they lived in and were surrounded by their furniture, paintings, and personal possessions.  We visited the gardens and greenhouses where some of Darwin’s experiments on plants and insects have been recreated.  We also walked the Sandwalk, a quarter-mile stone and sand path where Charles Darwin took regular daily walks until the final weeks of his life.  Darwin referred to as his ‘thinking path’.  Our visit to this place was especially significant for our group.  It was here at Down House that Darwin completed much of the research and experimentation that was the basis of his remarkable scientific thinking and led to the groundbreaking theory of evolution that is now an accepted part of our understanding of the world.  This theory has been at the heart of our class’s exploration of human nature.

Also, it rained.  Really hard.  Really, really hard.

After we returned to London and dried off, we walked to the Charles Dickens Museum which is not far from our flats in Bloomsbury.  The museum is the home where Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine moved in 1837, a few months before Queen Victoria began her reign. Charles and Catherine raised three of their ten children in the house and entertained many of the leading figures of the day with dinners and parties. It was in this house that Charles Dickens wrote Oliver TwistPickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby.  It is also where he was living when he first achieved international fame as one of the world’s greatest writers.  Our guide gave us a wonderful tour of the museum and told us about what life was like for Dickens and his family.   We saw their furniture, tableware, portraits, china ornaments, paintings, and even Catherine’s engagement ring. We even saw handwritten drafts from the novels Dickens wrote here, as well as his desk and chair.

This really was a special day for us.  We have been studying the life and work of these two influential and unforgettable Victorians all semester, and it was exciting to actually visit the places where they lived with their families, entertained their friends, and created the work they are known for.  It was inspiring and, despite the weather, it was a great day.  For any student of science, art, and human nature….it does not get much better than this!

Tomorrow we will spend the morning learning more about Dickens and Victorian London during our Charles Dickens’ London walking tour with Dickensian scholar, Dr. David Tucker.  In the afternoon we will be traveling to Belgium to continue and expand our study of the Victorians.  Cheers from London!

British Museum Presentations and Westminster Abbey

Our fourth day in London began at the wonderful British Museum.  We met in the Enlightenment Wing and talked about the significance of this part of the museum.  This wing of the museum celebrates the Enlightenment, an age of reason and learning that flourished across Europe and America from about 1680 to 1820.  It is housed in the King’s Library, the former home of the library of King George III.  Objects on display reveal the way in which collectors, antiquaries and travelers classified objects from the world around them. The displays illustrate how our understanding of the world of nature and human achievement has changed over time. Students were given one of the major new disciplines of the age: Religion and Ritual, Trade and Discovery, Birth of Archaeology, Art History, Classification, Deciphering Ancient Script,s and Natural History.  The students chose an object from their assigned category that was linked with our course themes and their thesis.  They took turns presenting their object and thoughts about it to the class.

After everyone had finished, we took some time for lunch and then took the tube to Westminster Abbey.  We met our guide, Mark, for a private tour of the Abbey.  Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have been in Westminster Abbey.  Westminster Abbey  is the final resting place of 17 monarchs and is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, was founded in 960 AD.  Mark did a wonderful job taking us through the Abbey and telling us about its fascinating history.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside the church, but you can see some images here:  We even visited the graves of Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens whose lives and work we have focused on all semester. Tomorrow we will spend the day at Down House. the home of Charles Darwin, and the evening at Dickens House Museum, the former home of Charles Dickens.

After our tour of the Abbey, Mark took a group to see Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.  In the evening. some of us went to a show (Chicago…plenty of human nature on display there!), and others spent some time exploring other areas of the city.  We look forward to another busy day tomorrow.  Cheers from London!