Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures
Columbia American History Online

Main Menu

There are 36 items indexed to this topic.


Social Darwinism; survival of the fittest


The Search for a Scientific Culture
Resource Type: E-Seminar

Relevant pages:
American Ambivalence
The Impact of The Origin of Species
Revolutionary Implications
Responses of Protestant Leaders
Science as Surrogate Religion
The Conservative View
Subversive Implications
The Progressive View

Relevant texts:
The Damnation of Theron Ware, or Illumination by Harold Frederic (1896)
What Social Classes Owe to Each Other by William Graham Sumner (1883)

Relevant transcripts:
Casey Blake introduces the seminar.
Was there, then, such a thing as a timeless human nature#8212;or a human soul?
Beecher and Fiske offered an optimistic resolution of the conflict.
Spencer and Sumner argued against attempts to reform society.

The Impact of The Origin of Species
Resource Type: Primary Source
What struck the popular imagination most forcefully was Darwin's argument that humans and apes shared a common ancestry, and idea often simplified into the equation of man and monkey. This charicature of Charles Darwin appeared in the London Sketch Book (c.1860).

Responses of Protestant Leaders
Resource Type: Primary Source
The prominent preacher and lecturer Henry Ward Beecher (1813-87), whose published works included Evolution and Religion (1885).

Intellectual and Cultural History of the United States, 1890-1945—E-Seminar 2, The Search for a Scientific Culture
Resource Type: E-Seminar
By the end of the nineteenth century, science and technology were exerting a tremendous influence on life in the United States. In this second e-seminar of the series, Casey Nelson Blake explores why Darwin's ideas seemed so revolutionary and how Darwinism helped to move the United States toward a more secular and scientific modern culture.

The Progressive View
Resource Type: Primary Source
The sociologist Lester Frank Ward (1841-1913).

City Problems: Poverty and Slums
Resource Type: Document-Based Question
Exploring the cholera epidemic in mid-nineteenth century New York City, this selection of primary sources provides a case-study of immigration, urbanization (e.g., slums such as the Five Points), and social and moral reform that can be applied to the study of any city in the industrialized world.

Report of the Magdalen Society
Resource Type: Primary Source
Led by John Robert McDowell, a Princeton divinity student, the Magdalen Society was founded in 1831 to help reform prostitutes living in the Five Points slum.

Petition to Have the Five Points Opened
Resource Type: Primary Source
Merchants owning property along the periphery of Five Points petitioned the municipal government in 1829 to demolish the heart of the slum by widening and extending Anthony and Cross Streets.

Cholera Outbreak
Resource Type: Primary Source
This article, written during the cholera epidemic of 1832, conveyed the opinion that only certain social types contracted the deadly disease.

Cholera Epidemic Editorial
Resource Type: Primary Source
As far away as New Hampshire, editorials denounced the New York cholera epidemic of 1832 as divine retribution for decadence and sin.

Sunshine and Shadow in New York
Resource Type: Primary Source
Sunshine and Shadow in New York, a mid-nineteenth-century publication, depicts New York City as two polar societies, one affluent and vibrant, and one poor and diseased.

The White Man's Burden
Resource Type: Primary Source
This cartoon, referring to Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name, was published as the Spanish-American War ended and the insurrection in the Philippines against the Americans began.

Exhibition of American Negroes at World's Fair
Resource Type: Primary Source
The Exhibition of American Negroes at the 1900 Paris World's Fair tried to show that blacks in America had become part of the American middle class.

Board of Indian Commissioner Report
Resource Type: Primary Source
In this 1905 “Board of Indian Commissioner Report,” the federal government outlines its Indian policy.

Sanger on Mammals
Resource Type: Primary Source
Margaret Sanger became a nationally famous social reformer. Here she teaches children about mammals.

Social Darwinism
Resource Type: Point-Counterpoint
The doctrine of Social Darwinism was historically interpreted in a variety of ways, and as such it was used to defend a host of ideological perspectives, which in some cases conflicted with one another. A teacher examines the competing interpretations of Richard Hofstadter, Robert Bannister, and Mike Hawkins.

Social Darwinism
Resource Type: Classroom Simulation
This simulation captures American society in 1900 and presents a fictional meeting of educators. In their respective roles, students will debate the ways in which educational reform can improve American society. Students will understand how different strands of social-Darwinist thought informed American life, culture, and politics, imposing a legacy which continues to affect American education as well as the larger society.

Refine Browse

Historical thinking 

Discovering primary sources (12) 

Interpreting and analysing (7) 

Narrating history (9) 

Resource types 

Video Transcripts (4) 

Text Excerpts (2) 

CAHO is being provided to you for your own use. Any copying or distribution of CAHO materials is prohibited.