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PBK Visiting Scholars


RICHARD PRUM, Yale University, The Evolution of Beauty, PBK Visiting Lecture, recorded 26 Feb. 2021 (click here to launch the video)

In this lecture, Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum describes how mating preferences--what Darwin termed "the taste for the beautiful"--create the extraordinary range of ornament in the animal world. In the great halls of science, dogma holds that Darwin's theory of natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life: which species thrive, which wither away to extinction, and what features each evolves. But can adaptation by natural selection really account for everything we see in nature?

Prum--reviving Darwin's own views--thinks not. Deep in tropical jungles around the world are birds with a dizzying array of appearances and mating displays: Club-winged Manakins who sing with their wings, Great Argus Pheasants who dazzle prospective mates with a four-foot-wide cone of feathers covered in golden 3D spheres, Red-capped Manakins who moonwalk. In thirty years of fieldwork, Prum has seen numerous display traits that seem disconnected from, if not outright contrary to, selection for individual survival. To explain this, he dusts off Darwin's long-neglected theory of sexual selection in which the act of choosing a mate for purely aesthetic reasons--for the mere pleasure of it--is an independent engine of evolutionary change.

"The Evolution of Beauty" presents a unique scientific vision for how nature's splendor contributes to a more complete understanding of evolution and of ourselves.

Richard Prum

PROFESSOR RICHARD PRUM, William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Curator of Ornithology and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Professor Prum is an evolutionary ornithologist with broad interests in avian biology. He has done research on diverse topics, including avian phylogenetics, behavioral evolution, feather evolution and development, sexual selection, sexual conflict, aesthetic evolution, avian color vision, avian structural colors and pigments, avian mimicry, and the theropod dinosaur origin of birds. His book "The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World- and Us" (Doubleday 2017) was named a Top Ten Book of the Year by the New York Times, and was a Finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Non-fiction. From 2012-2017, he served as the Director of the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities at Yale, the initiative aims to foster communication, mutual understanding, collaborative research and teaching among diverse scientific and humanistic disciplines.


Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program  

Since 1957, the Society's Visiting Scholar Program has been offering undergraduates the opportunity to spend time with some of America's most distinguished scholars. The purpose of the program is to contribute to the intellectual life of the campus by making possible an exchange of ideas between the Visiting Scholars and the resident faculty and students. They meet informally with students and faculty members, participate in classroom discussions and seminars, and give a public lecture open to the entire academic community. The visits are designed primarily for undergraduate participation. 

Recent Visiting Scholars:

Fall 2019

Richard Alley
Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University
"Two-Mile Time Machines: Ice cores and abrupt climate change"

Fall 2018

Dava Newman
Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics at MIT, and a Harvard-MIT Health, Sciences, and Technology faculty member
"Exploring Space for Earth: Earth's Vital Signs revealed"

Fall 2017

Stephen Walt
Professor of International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government
"U.S. Foreign Policy Today and in the Future"
Wyoming Public Media Interview - "America's Place on the World Stage"

Fall 2015

Hazel Carby
Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of African American Studies and American Studies and director of the Initiative on Race, Gender, and Globalization, Yale
"Black Futurities: Shape-Shifting Beyond the Limits of the Human"

Spring 2015

Kathleen McGarry
Professor of Economics, UCLA
"50 Years of the War on Poverty: What it Meant for the Elderly"

Spring 2014

Christine M. Thomas, Professor of Religious Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara
"Finding Paul in the Landscape of the Ancient City: Urban Space at Ephesos, Real and Imagined"

Fall 2012

Tyler Burge, Professor of Philosophy, UCLA
Perception: Origins of Mind

Fall 2010

Dr. Jack Goldstone
Global Population Trends and How They Shape Our Future

Highlights in the History of the PBK Visiting Scholar Program at the University of Wyoming


Program is Initiated by PBK National Office


Thomas Swain Barclay, Department of Political Science, Stanford University-16 April 1959


Ernest Simmons, Departments of Russian Literature and Slavic Languages, Columbia University-12 April 1960


Peter Odegard, Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley-27 March


Lewis Hanke, Department of Latin American Studies, Columbia University-5 April


Marston Bates, Department of Zoology, University of Michigan-8 April


Paul Sears, Department of Plant Science and Director Conservation Program, Yale University-6 April


Mark H Ingraham, Department of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin-26 April


Fritz Machlup, Department of Economics, Princeton University-4 April


William Steere, Director, New York Botanical Garden -20  April


Otto Luening, Composer and Conductor, Columbia University-13 March


Henry J. Abraham, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania


Gordon A. Craig, Department of History, Stanford University


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Columbia University Law School-2 May


Carl Woodring, George Edward Woodberry Professor of Literature at Columbia University-4 May


John Fischer, Harper's Magazine-5 April


Kingsley Davis and Judith Blake, Department of Sociology, University of California at Los Angeles


Clarence Allen, Department of Geology,  California Institute of Technology


Richard Neustadt, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


Hazel Barnes, Department of Philosophy, University of Colorado


James D. Hart, Department of English, University of California, Berkeley


Edwin S. Gaustad, Department of History, University of California, Riverside-5 April


Nancie L. Gonzalez, Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland-15 March


Arnold Moss, Actor and Founder of Shakespeare Festival Players


Wanda Corn, Department of Art History, Stanford University-25 March


Lewis Coser, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Stony Brook


Robert E. Streeter, Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of English, University of Chicago


Paul J. Steinhardt, Department of Physics, University of Pennsylvania


David Pimental, Department of Insect Ecology & Agricultural Sciences, Cornell University


Martin Marty, Cone Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Modern Christianity, University of Chicago


Leon Henkin, Department of Mathematics, University of California, Berkeley


Leon Eisenberg, Presley Professor of Social Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School


Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Department of Performance Studies and Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University


Roger E. Howe, Department of Mathematics, Yale University


Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics in the Divinity School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago


Paul Steven Miller, Commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission


Holmes Rolston III, University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University


Richard Losick, Cabot Professor of Biology, Harvard University


Arlene Saxonhouse, Department of Political Science and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan


James L. Wescoat, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illiinois-UC


Werner Gundersheimer, Director Emeritus, Folger Shakespeare Library


Eric Heller, Department of Physics and Chemistry, Harvard University


Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, Department of Systematic Theology, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley


Betty Smocovitis, Departments of History and Zoology, University of Florida


Jack Goldstone, Hazel Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University


Tyler Burge, Department of Philosophy, University of California at Los Angeles


Christine M. Thomas, Department of Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara


Kathleen McGarry, Department of Economics, University of California at Los Angeles


Hazel V. Carby, Department of African American Studies, Yale University


Stephen Walt, Department of International Relations, Harvard University


Dava Newman, Department of Astronomy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Richard Alley, Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University-4 Nov


Richard Prum, William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Curator of Ornithology and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University

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