William (Ned) Friedman

Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Director of the Arnold Arboretum

Harvard University


Courses I teach

Getting to Know Charles Darwin (Harvard University)

This half-term, fall-term offering, freshman seminar incorporates reading selections from Darwin's publications, as well as his private correspondence, and focuses close attention on the man behind the science as revealed by his writings. The goal is to introduce Darwin as an avid breeder of pigeons, lover of barnacles, devoted father and husband, gifted correspondent and tactician, and remarkable backyard scientist. Together, the class reproduces ten of Darwin's classic Down House experiments and observations that were central to his case for natural selection and evolution. Note: Open to Freshmen only. Required field trips to the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and a local pigeon fancier will be included.

Sociobotany (Harvard University)

This half-term, spring-term offering is open to graduate and undergraduate students. Taught with Prof. David Haig, the course is a study of the diversity and evolution of plant life cycles, with an emphasis on interactions between the generations. The course has a different focus each semester that it is offered, in Spring 2015 the focus was on female gametophytes of flowering plants.
Note: Registration requires permission of the instructor.

Courses I have taught

Plant Biodiversity and Evolution (University of Colorado)

The goal of this course is to understand plant diversity from an historical and
phylogenetic perspective. Both neobotanical and paleobotanical data are brought to bear on the analysis of significant evolutionary events/processes in the history of photosynthetic life. Information from cell biology, morphology, life history theory, and development are all incorporated into the discussion of these most significant evolutionary events. Topics covered include the origin of photosynthetic life, the origin and diversification of eukaryotes, the colonization of land by plants, the evolution of roots, leaves and arborescence as a cause of the great Paleozoic CO2 drawdown (90%), the origin of the seed habit, and Darwin's "abominable mystery," the origin of flowering plants.

Concepts and information from lectures are applied to a hands-on set of laboratory sessions on plant diversity. Labs range from an examination of the diversity of cyanobacteria to the preparation and study of fossils from Carboniferous coal balls. The goal of every lab is to insure that students experience and interact with the actual data that are the basis for the interpretation of evolutionary history and diversification. Each student works with a state-of-the-art digital imaging station throughout the semester to record plant structure through the microscope.

Darwinian Revolution (University of Colorado)

For over a century before the publication of the On the Origin of Species, naturalists, theologians, atheists, horticulturalists, medical practitioners, poets, and philosophers advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life through descent with modification. The early intellectual history of evolutionism is examined by reading and discussing the primary literature itself, as well as Darwin's seminal work, On the Origin of Species.

Graduate Seminar on Pre-Darwinian Evolutionism (University of Colorado)

In 2001, I initiated an annual reading group / graduate seminar on the topic of pre-Darwinian evolutionism. The first year, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin (and an early advocate of descent of all life from a common ancestor) was the focus of the group. In 2002, we met to discuss the life of Alfred Russel Wallace. In 2003, the evolutionary writings of Robert Chambers were carefully examined. In 2004, a fascinating set of minor pre-Darwinian evolutionists that Charles Darwin wrote of in his prefatory Historical Sketch in On the Origin of Species were the center of our attention. In 2005, we made our way through the private notebooks of Charles Darwin, which were begun shortly after his return from the voyage of the Beagle. In 2006, we investigated the open question of whether Charles Lyell was a convert to evolutionist views prior to the publication of the On the Origin of Species. In 2008, we examined the geological and evolutionary writings of Lamarck. Participants in this reading group come from diverse backgrounds and include biology, geology, environmental studies, museum studies, and anthropology graduate students. We meet once a month over dinner and discuss the readings chosen for that semester. This series of graduate seminars represents my effort to explore the historiography of this important period in the development of evolutionary thought.

All of the plant images on this web page were created by students enrolled in Plant Biodiversity and Evolution (EBIO 4500)

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