Professor Richards’ studies in the contextual history of evolutionary biology are internationally regarded as offering a major advance in the understanding and interpretation of the scientific past. Her recent book on the genesis and reception of Charles Darwin’s concept of sexual selection, Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection, has generated substantial international impact, being awarded the 2018 Suzanne J Levinson Prize of the US History of Science Society for the “best book in the history of the life sciences and natural history".
Equally remarkable during Professor Richards’ career has been her engagement with the history and socio-politics of medicine and their policy implications, demonstrating the importance of historical and sociological analyses in illuminating medical practices and policy, particularly in relation to clinical trials and drug regulation.
“It was an exciting time when I found two missing pages on sexual selection from Darwin’s pre-Origin of Species manuscript while I was going through the Darwin papers in the Cambridge Library collection. It’s moments like this that keep me going through the dusty folios and boxes and the many hundreds of hours of archival research,” explains Professor Richards.
“I find myself absorbed in the work of influential scientists like Darwin and Linus Pauling, and prize the experience of getting to know them a little through their writings. But equally valuable are the opportunities to retrieve the work and experiences of lesser known or neglected historical figures, like the so-called ‘little men’ who gave Darwin his essential information on breeding, or those Victorian women who disputed Darwin’s evolutionary arguments for female intellectual inferiority.
“My major passion is the history and historiography of evolutionary theory. They not only illuminate the ways in which theories of species change came to be written and received, but also how these theories continue to be read and understood by present day scientists,” said Professor Richards. “I am particularly interested in how evolutionary theorizing, past and present, is shaped and reshaped by issues of race, gender and sexuality.”