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!

Darkest Victorian London and Hamlet

Hello from London!  Despite the forecast it was another beautiful day in London. We met early this morning for a class discussion in Russell Square.  After that we took the tube to Monument to meet our guide for our “Darkest Victorian London” walking tour.  We arrived at Monument a bit early.  Monument was designed by Christopher Wren and Dr. Robert Hooke.  It was completed in 1677 and serves as a commemoration of the Great Fire of 1666.  Monument is 202 feet tall and is exactly 202 feet from the bakery where the fire started.  The fire lasted for four days and destroyed 86% of the city.  There are over 311 steps inside Monument and some of the students went up to the top to take pictures.

Our walking tour guide, Richard, met us at 10 am and we spent just over 2 hours walking the city and learning about life in Victorian London.  Richard did a wonderful job helping us to see the remnants of the Victorians on the modern streets of London.  After our tour we headed straight to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to see a production of Hamlet (

The play was wonderful.  Hamlet was played by Michelle Terry, the new artistic director at the Globe.  She and the rest of the cast were impressive.  We could certainly find many themes in Hamlet that fit our study of human nature!

We ended our busy day with a class discussion and some relaxation at The Plough here in Bloomsbury.  We are looking forward to another busy day tomorrow.  Cheers from London!

Darwin Center and Borough Market

It started off a little cloudy but it turned out to be a great day!  We met for breakfast and a class discussion in Russell Square.  Dr. Firenze read from the beginning of  Bleak House to help paint a picture (Dickens style) of Victorian London:

“London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.”

Lucky for us, the sun came out and “our” London is not quite so muddy as the one Dickens described.  After that we took the tube to the British Museum of Natural History.  We had a private behind the scenes tour of the Darwin Center.  We visited the “Spirit Room”  and saw some of the many specimens in the museum’s collection.  We also saw some type specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself.  After our time at the museum we went to Borough Market for lunch…everything from grilled cheese to goat’s milk ice cream to a vegan bacon cheeseburger!  We then had a bit of free time this afternoon to give everyone a chance to check out some other things in London that we will not see as part of our class.  One group went to Kew Gardens, another to the Tower of London, and others visited some other local attractions.  Tomorrow is another busy day for us with a walking tour and a performance of Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe. We hope the weather cooperates.  Right now there is a lot of rain in the forecast.  Good night from London!

BIO 293 Arrives Safely in London

The 2018 BIO 293 class left SUNY Broome at 1pm yesterday and arrived at London’s Heathrow airport today around 10:15 am.  After waiting for a few hours (!) to clear immigration and customs (holy cow….the lines!!!!) we took the tube to our flats.  We dropped off our bags and headed right back to the tube to go to the museum of London.  We spent about an hour going through the museum and then the students took turns presenting about various objects they had selected which were linked with the themes of human nature we have been studying.  A few students also provided some information about their developing thesis statements. After we spent a few hours at the museum, we headed back to the flats to settle in, visit the grocery store, and have some dinner.  A few of us visited the British Museum for an hour or so.

It has been a very long day (or was it days?), so we are are looking forward to some rest.  Tomorrow we will meet early for a class discussion and a trip to the British Museum of Natural History and a private, behind the scenes tour of the Darwin Center.  Good night from beautiful London!

Welcome to Darwin, Evolution, and The Victorians

The incalculable influence of Victorian England on contemporary American culture is nowhere more conspicuous than in the science of human nature—a phenomenon largely attributable to the groundbreaking enterprise of Charles Darwin. With the publication of “On the Origin of Species” in 1859 Darwin changed how we think about the natural world and-as a result- transformed the way we view our own human nature. The “Origin” was published during the Victorian age, a wonderfully complex period of human history characterized by major transitions in: science, technology, literature, social responsibility, philosophy, and culture that defied long-standing conventional thinking. Explore how Darwin and other influential Victorians ushered in this revolution as we examine Victorian culture through the lens of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and develop a new understanding of the fundamental and universal human nature that links us all. Join Dr. Richard F. Firenze, evolutionary biologist, and Dr. Jennifer Musa, neuroscientist, as they use both evolutionary theory and modern neuroscience to discover how biology, behavior, and culture have been inseparably intertwined throughout human history. Our multi-disciplinary adventure and exploration will take us to some of the most significant historical venues in and around London including the British Museum, Down House, Dickens House, The British Museum of Natural History, the British Library, The Museum of London, the Royal Society of London, the National Portrait Gallery, the Globe Theater, and, of course, a few Victorian pubs as we literally follow in the footsteps of the Victorians to gain a new understanding of our past, our present, and perhaps our future.

Credits: 3 (No extra tuition for full time students.)
Classes: Mondays at 2 pm
London: May 24, 2018—June 1, 2018
Fees: $2595 includes airfare, lodging, all ground transportation, and instructional activities. Fees subject to slight variation.
For more information or to apply, please contact:
Dr. Richard Firenze
NS 207E, 778-5067,
Dr. Jennifer Musa
NS 311, 778-5088,