Skip to main content
Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin Scholar

About CDU

The Charles Darwin Scholar Program is a biennial initiative established in 2013 to enhance Charles Darwin University’s links to the work and legacy of its namesake, Charles Darwin.

Darwin was arguably one of the most influential scientists the world has known. The Program brings eminent scholars of Darwin, or of the legacy of his work such as evolutionary biology, to CDU to engage in discussion, intellectual enquiry and activities to expand local knowledge and stimulate thinking. Charles Darwin Scholars are invited to deliver an Oration on their work - the Charles Darwin Oration.

Read more about Charles Darwin at the Beagle Kiosk.

2020 Scholar

2020 Charles Darwin Scholar – Professor David Haig

David Haig

Professor David Haig, the George Putnam Professor of Biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, USA, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was appointed the Charles Darwin Scholar for 2020, however, due to COVID-19 his trip to the Northern Territory in May 2020 has had to be postponed. It is hoped that the Charles Darwin Scholar program will resume in 2021 and that Professor Haig will be able to take up his appointment then.

Professor Haig is an evolutionary theorist who has wide-ranging research interests, from the evolution of plant life cycles to maternal-foetal conflict in human pregnancy and specifically genetic conflicts within organisms as exemplified by genomic imprinting. Born and educated in Australia, Professor Haig has been a researcher at Harvard for over 25 years, during which time his work has received international acclaim. He is widely published in his field; his most recent book, From Darwin to Derrida: Selfish Genes, Social Selves, and the Meanings of Life, explores how the meaningless process of natural selection produces purposeful beings who find meaning in the world.

For further information on the Charles Darwin Scholar Program contact Maryanne McKaige.



2018 Scholar


Professor Daniel Dennett

2018 Charles Darwin Scholar – Professor Daniel Dennett

View the recording of the Oration on YouTube.

An internationally acclaimed philosopher, who specialises in the evolution of the human mind, has been appointed as Charles Darwin University’s 2018 Charles Darwin Scholar.

Daniel Dennett, who is Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Centre for Cognitive Studies in the School of Art and Sciences at Tufts University in the United States, visited CDU in September 2018.

Professor Dennett’s research focuses on the philosophy of the mind, science, and biology - particularly how these fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science – and the evolution of the human mind and what distinguishes it from other animals’ minds in terms of consciousness. Professor Dennett is well known for his views and input to the long-running international debate among evolutionary biologists around socio-biology and evolutionary psychology. His views – coming from the position of a philosopher – provide a perspective and analysis on how human minds have evolved that was of great interest to both science and humanities staff and students at CDU, as well as to the wider NT community.

Professor Dennett is the author of many books, including Breaking the Spell (Viking, 2006), Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Simon & Schuster, 1995), and most recently From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (Norton, 2017), and the recipient of numerous awards including two Fulbright Fellowships, two Guggenheim Fellowships and five honorary doctorates.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987 and was awarded the Erasmus Prize, the Netherlands’ highest academic honour, presented by Queen Beatrice in Amsterdam in 2012. More information about Daniel Dennett can be found on the Tufts University website. 

 2018 Charles Darwin Oration

From Bacteria to Bach: Charles Darwin’s Vision Extended

View the recording of the Oration on YouTube.

Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection was, according to one critic, a “strange inversion of reasoning,” and today we can see the same inversion playing out in other realms: in technology, and in the understanding of our own minds, which are the product of two parallel evolutionary processes, genetic and cultural.

Professor Dennett’s 2017 book From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, explores the origin of human consciousness from a materialist theory of mind, arguing that consciousness is no more mysterious than gravity and that natural systems can create “competence without comprehension”.

2016 Scholars
Charles Darwin Scholars Peter and Rosemary Grant

2016 Charles Darwin Scholars - Emeritus Professors Peter and Rosemary Grant

View the recording of the oration on YouTube.

From the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, New Jersey.

After lifelong careers working together in the field of evolutionary biology, including nearly 40 years studying ‘Darwin’s Finches’ on the Galapagos Islands, husband and wife team Peter and Rosemary Grant are something of icons in the field of evolutionary biology.

Their work is known internationally for its demonstration of rapid evolution in response to changes in food supply and their elucidation of the mechanisms by which new species arise and genetic diversity is maintained in populations. Charles Darwin viewed evolution as a process so slow that changes would be observed over near-geologic timescales. The Grants’ research is remarkable in that it has shown that evolution can be observed within a lifetime and has been demonstrated on the very species that were so instrumental in inspiring Charles Darwin’s ideas about natural selection. As Darwin wrote in 1845; Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.

The Grants' contributions to evolutionary biology have garnered them many laurels, notable among which is the 1998 E. O. Wilson Naturalist Award and the 2002 Darwin Medal from the Royal Society of London for accomplishments in evolutionary biology. In 2008 they were recipients of the Darwin-Wallace Medal, which is bestowed every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London and in 2009 they were recipients of the annual Kyoto Prize in basic sciences, an international award honouring significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of mankind.

The Grants' work has also lent the narrative spine to 'The Beak of the Finch', a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of their adventures in the archipelago written by the journalist Jonathan Weiner.

Professors Peter and Rosemary Grant visited CDU in June 2016 and were based at the Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods. While at CDU they delivered the Charles Darwin Oration (PDF 234KB) and were involved in a rerun of the 'Charles Darwin, Evolution and Tropical Australia' MOOC, as well as a range of other activities.

he 2016 Charles Darwin Scholars, Emeritus Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant, gave the 2016 Charles Darwin Oration 'Evolution in Action: Charles Darwin and the Galapagos Finches' at CDU campuses in Darwin and Alice Springs in June 2016.

The Oration drew on the Grants' more than 40 years of work on the Galapagos Islands and demonstrated that evolution can be observed within a human lifetime.

2016 Charles Darwin Scholar Oration

View the recording of the oration on YouTube.

Download the 2016 Charles Darwin Oration flyer (PDF 234KB).

Read the 2016 Charles Darwin Oration transcript (PDF 379KB).

2014 Scholar
Charles Darwin Scholar Janet Browne

2014 Charles Darwin Scholar – Professor Janet Browne

The Inaugural Charles Darwin Scholar, Professor Janet Browne, was appointed in 2014. Professor Browne is one of the world’s leading scholars of Charles Darwin. She is Aramont Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, and is widely known for her work on the history of 19th century biology with a specialisation in re-evaluating the life, times and work of Charles Darwin. Her interests also range widely over the history of the life sciences and natural history and she is greatly interested in the history of animal and plant collecting, old museums, voyages of exploration, garden history, and the science and religion controversies.

Among her many achievements, Professor Browne has won critical acclaim for her two-volume biography of Darwin, Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002), described by reviewers as “monumental” and “definitive”. She has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography, the James Tait Black award for non-fiction in 2004 and  the Pfizer Prize for Biography from the British History of Science Society, and the Royal Society of Literature Prize.

Professor Browne spent most of July 2014 at Charles Darwin University’s Casuarina and Alice Springs Campuses, where she was engaged in a wide variety of activities including the launch of the Beagle Library online, webinars and material for CDU’s MOOC Charles Darwin, Evolution and Tropical Australia, talks to staff, students and the community and most importantly, delivery of the Charles Darwin Oration (pdf 324KB) on Charles Darwin: His Life in Public and Private at Parliament House Darwin on July 16, 2014, and at CDU Alice Springs on July 24, 2014.

You might also be interested in

  • Professorial lecture

    CDU Professorial Lecture Series

    The Professorial Lecture Series provides an opportunity for CDU's academics to discuss their specific areas of interest, from ecosystems through to history.

    Learn more
  • Austin Asche Oration2

    Austin Asche Oration in Law and Governance

    This annual oration honours The Honourable Austin Asche AC QC service to the people of the Northern Territory and his contribution to law, tertiary education and to the community. 

    The Honourable Austin Asche AC QC's long and distinguished career includes, amongst others,  his appointment to the Queen's Council, Judge of the Family Court of Australia, Judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory as well as Chief Justice of the Northern Territory.

    Find out more
  • Vincent Lingiari and Gough Whitlam

    Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture

    The Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture commemorates the Wave Hill Station walk-off led by Vincent Lingiari with his Gurindji people and other groups in August 1966 – a significant act by those involved as it was a catalyst for Aboriginal people, not only in the Northern Territory but across Australia, to have their rights to traditional lands recognised and for those lands to be returned.

    Find out more