ONTARIO ALUMNI DINNER - October 31, 2008

The venue for the sixth annual dinner remained at The National Club on Bay Street. Here, notwithstanding the competing draw of Halloween, over 50 alumni, guests and friends of Trinity gathered for a stimulating evening on Darwin with one of our notable graduates, Professor Janet Browne. In particular, representatives of Oxford and Cambridge again attended our dinner.

As with all previous dinners, John Payne began with a summary of the year's activities. There has been increasing cooperation between alumni groups, principal of these being the large turnout of about 200 people at the MaRS centre in April to hear Dr. Ilse Treurnicht discuss Canada's Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy. More pub nights were on the agenda with the LSE Oxbridge Christmas Party at the Duke of York (to be held again this year on November 27) and the Cornell one in June. Our own, organized as usual in March at P.J. O'Brien, was cancelled at the last minute due to a tremendous snow storm that shut Toronto down. Another large combined event was hosted by Cornell and comprised a US election debate at Hart House. It was a very interesting evening with some strong arguments on both sides from US and Canadian speakers. About 10 of our alumni attended which was a good showing in proportion to our numbers. The popularity of these combined events may continue to grow given the strength in numbers and the broader base of events they can provide.

The toast to Canada was proposed by John Payne and followed by the toast to Ireland given by Bruce Buttimore. Peter Hearn performed his customary duty by saying the two Latin graces, between which the attendees were served prime rib of Alberta beef and Yorkshire pudding. The toast to Trinity after the meal was proposed by George Lewis who waxed lyrical about his time at college with the help of some modified lines from Yeats. In advance of introducing the speaker, John Payne remarked that Dublin University Boat Club had achieved a huge success by winning the Irish Senior Rowing Championship this year. A week earlier the Club had organized a celebration dinner and packed the Dining Hall to capacity with about 250 Boat Club alumni going back to the 1940's.

The event really underlined the spirit of the college and, in particular, the significant contribution that college sports clubs make to TCD's image and reputation outside its walls. In many ways the college is known, and its reputation enhanced, by its competitive sports teams, and the Boat Club is a major force in this exercise. It is to be hoped that those who govern the college will not overlook this important contribution in the midst of all the changes that are happening academically.

Our speaker this year, Janet Browne, completed a degree in Natural Sciences at Trinity and an M.Sc. and Ph.D. at Imperial College and has gone on to great achievements in academics to become the world's leading scholar on the life, times, and thought of Charles Darwin. Since obtaining her doctorate she has specialized in reassessing Charles Darwin's work, first as associate editor of the early volumes of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, which is a continuing 14-volume series, published since 1985, analyzing some 14,000 letters.

More recently she was the author of a major two-volume biographical study - "Charles Darwin: Voyaging" (Knopf, 1995) and "Charles Darwin: The Power of Place" (Knopf, 2002) - that integrated Darwin's science with his life and times. The books present a vivid picture of the reclusive scientist's life, work, and influence, and explore the ways in which scientific knowledge was created, distributed and accepted in the Victorian scientific community. The biography was very well received both in the UK and USA, and awarded several prestigious prizes. Janet is currently working on a new book, scheduled for publication in 2008, on the gorilla as an object of scientific and cultural concern since the late 1800s.

Janet was based for many years at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London where she taught in the MA, MSc and undergraduate programmes in the history of science, biology, and medicine. She has been editor of the British Journal for the History of Science and president of the British Society for the History of Science. She also served as a senior research associate at Cambridge University Library, and was senior visiting research fellow at King's College, Cambridge. In 2006 she was appointed Aramont Professor of the History of Science in Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Janet began her remarks by reminding us that next year will be the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species. The occasion will be celebrated by all kinds of events, movies, stamps and so on. Darwin poured himself into his work and it nearly devoured him and it is still contested today. The debate has been going for 150 years and next year will be a year of counter attack on creationism and fundamentalism. In summary, Janet remarked that there was room for religion and Darwin. In fact his earlier ambition had been to become a vicar. However, on returning from the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin came back to an industrialized and changed country and he became a secular figure. His intentions were not radical. He still believed in something but he is an enigma and his autobiography is not revealing. There was a stimulating and lengthy question and answer period, which brought out a variety of themes including genetics and evolution.

The evening concluded with John Cary who, in thanking Janet, explained his very extended connection to Darwin, and presented her with two books Trinity College Dublin: A Beautiful Place and Trinity College Dublin: the First 400 Years by J V Luce.

As with all years, special thanks are due to John Cary for taking care of the detailed arrangements with the National Club and for his excellent choice of menu and wines, and also to Bill McConnell for assisting with the organization and communicating with alumni. Also thanks to Bruce Buttimore for continuing to support the website and to Katharine Payne and Ryan Kaden for taking care of the registrations on the night.