Professor Joe Cain is UCL Professor of History and Philosophy of Biology in UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). Professor Joe Cain tweets as @profjoecain

Research Interests

Professor Joe Cain is an expert in the history of evolutionary biology, especially Darwin, Darwinism, and the synthesis period in evolutionary studies. Prof Joe Cain’s research interests include the history of evolutionary studies, Darwin and Darwinism, history of science in London, history of eugenics, heritage studies, and history of natural history. Recent projects include: use of jokes in science to measure tribal affiliations, romantic collaborations in modern science, and the famous dinosaur statues in London’s Crystal Palace. Joe also is director of the Legacies of Eugenics project.


Charles Darwin Blue Plaque on Gower Street London WC1, by Professor Joe Cain
Charles Darwin Blue Plaque on Gower Street London WC1, by Professor Joe Cain

Recent Research Activities

In 2020, Joe is researching the history of eugenics research and advocacy at UCL, using blogs to disseminate some of his findings and reflections. This focuses attention on Karl Pearson, Francis Galton, Ronald Fisher, and the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics. Joe was a member of the 2018-2020 UCL Eugenics Inquiry

Joe also continues research and writing on researchers associated with the synthesis period in evolutionary studies, including George Gaylord Simpson, Ernst Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Edgar Anderson, Julian Huxley, and others. He was a co-investigator on the Popularizing Palaeontology.

In 2019, Joe oversaw republication of Lyndsay Farrall’s classic work, The Origins and Growth of the English Eugenics Movement, 1865-1925, as STS Occasional Papers number 9 (ISBN 978-1-78751-001-2, free open access).

In 2018, Joe published Night Thoughts: George Gaylord Simpson’s Reflections on Leaving the American Museum of Natural History as STS Occasional Papers number 7 (ISBN 978-1-78751-000-5, free open access). This is a close study a journal entry written by this famous palaeontologist on his last evening employed by the American Museum of Natural History in a job that was the post of a lifetime.

Longer ago, in 2009, Joe helped published a new edition of Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Penguin) and a collection of essays on new trends in the history of Darwinism, Descended from Darwin (American Philosophical Society). In 2016, Joe ended his “Film Nights” series, a 10+ year collaboration with UCL Grant Museum of Zoology that showed, for free, classic and obscure films related to the history of natural history. Films included “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “The Blob,” “The Lost World,” “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” and the shamefully popular “Attack of the Killer Shrews”. This series served as a setting to develop a new model for public engagement in the cinema.

Edward K. Ford (1908) The Brown Dog and His Memorial | Protest | Professor Joe Cain
UCL students gather to protest the “libel” memorialised on the famous Brown Dog statue in Batterseas. From Edward K. Ford (1908) The Brown Dog and His Memorial.

Other Activities

At UCL, Professor Joe Cain is a member of the UCL Press Executive Board and UCL Academic Board. Between 2011 and 2019 he served as Head of Department for UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). He is project director of Legacies of Eugenics. Professor Joe Cain was a member of UCL Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL.

Joe’s current research groups include Popularizing Palaeontology network (AHRC-funded project with Chris Manias, KCL) and Group for a New Historiography in Evolution and Current Biology.

Within his professional community, Joe serves on the Council of the Systematics Association. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, an Associate Member of the Marine Biological Association, and formerly a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London. He is past-president of the Society for the History of Natural History, has been Editor of BSHS Monographs and Associate Editor of Archives of Natural History, and has served on the Council of the Linnean Society, the British Society for the History of Science and the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science. Joe has been Associate Editor of British Journal for the History of Science. He served on the Advisory Board of the Journal of the History of Biology and of the Studies in the History of Biology (Russian). Joe also is past-chair of the Advisory Board for the Subject Centre for Philosophical and Religious Studies for the HE Academy.

In the commercial world, Joe is editor for Euston Grove Press.

Pushing Against the Ocean | ProfJoeCain

Awards and Prizes for Professor Joe Cain

Joe has won several teaching awards:

  • 2008 MAPS Faculty Teaching Award, UCL
  • 2007 Joseph Hazen Education Prize, History of Science Society
  • 2001 MAPS Faculty Teaching Award, UCL

Joe also won the 2012 UCL’s Public Engagement Unit’s award for the head of department who has shown the strongest commitment to culture change in their area of responsibility with respect to public engagement.

He has received one prize for photography and is an avid amateur photographer. His photograph, “Connecting Threads,” won the BSHS OEC Image Prize for 2007.