On Wednesday I journeyed over to West Philly in order to hear a talk by Dr. Jared Diamond, noted scholar and author of best-selling popular science books such as Guns, Germs and Steel. Honestly, I was not incredibly familiar with his work before attending the lecture, but an anthropology major friend of mine idolizes him, and I decided to accept her invitation to hear him speak in order to gain some fodder for this blog.
Dr. Diamond spoke at the Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania, in an event that was free and open to the public. His lecture was entitled “Washed Up: The Role of Water in the Collapse of Societies”, and was based in part on his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. As its name suggests, the lecture concentrated on how environmental degradation can lead to societal collapse. Dr. Diamond covered a number of examples of this phenomenon, from the past to the present day. For instance, he discussed Easter Island in great detail. Easter Island (of giant stone head fame) was once heavily populated. However, the Islanders cut down all their trees, and the destruction of this important natural resource led to their doom. In contrast, the citizens of the Netherlands, realizing the fragility of their low-lying land, have become careful environmental stewards in order to ensure their country’s survival. Overall, Dr. Diamond effectively illustrated the interrelation of the health of a society and the health of its environment.
While Dr. Diamond is ostensibly a professor of Geography and Physiology, he is apparently knowledgeable about everything, ever. During the question and answer period, he fielded questions about everything from erosion in Papua New Guinea to post-Soviet Eastern European politics to social networking with considerable aplomb. Dr. Diamond’s scholarship seems to require a lot of interdisciplinary knowledge, and it shows.
My friend and I then rounded out the night by snagging some really excellent cheese dip (I think it was made of brie) at the post-lecture reception. Overall, it was a very thought-provoking, intellectual evening, and I’m certainly planning on reading some of Dr. Diamond’s work in the future.
Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania
3401 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104