Dr. John Hinshaw

Dr. John Hinshaw Publishes Paper in The Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology

Dr Hinshaw published a paper “Charles Darwin and Karl Marx: Towards an Evolutionary History of Labor” in The Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology. Outside of a couple Ivy League scholars, no historians use evolution in their work. Hinshaw’s paper shows how evolutionary approaches could be used to understand not just ancient history, but the history of American trade unions. 

Labor historians have long observed that women rarely rise to leadership of unions and typically conclude that this results from discrimination. What Hinshaw found is that leadership imposes substantial costs on individuals: a shorter life span for local union leaders of between five and nine years. Furthermore, 75percent of female leaders had no children. Evolutionary theory would predict that most people would avoid leadership if the costs were that high. Hinshaw argues that historians should understand the costs of leadership along with discrimination as causal factors for the male dominance of unions. His work suggests that evolutionary approaches can help guide historical research. 

As Hinshaw notes, “Historians are more comfortable discussing facts than grand theories. Yet in practice, historians often rely on folk psychology to help them sort through the mountains of facts we deal with.” Most historians accept evolution in the abstract but avoid it in their own work as they confuse evolution with the crude racism of Social Darwinists who argued that blacks and whites were different races, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to intermarry, etc. Consequently, historians are cutting themselves off from a lot of interesting recent research that shows how the brain evolved and how that can be applied to our modern world. As Hinshaw observes, “When scholars start to understand evolution, and how powerful a tool it is, and how wide ranging are its implications, they tend to get very, very excited. Historians are just starting that process.”

Hinshaw is proposing a new course for Fall 2010 called “Evolution for Everyone: The History of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” 

Relevant Links:
Karl Marx and Charles Darwin: Towards an Evolutionary History of Labor (PDF)

Find out what else is going on in the History & Political Science Department.