Musings From UVA

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 1, 2009 3:26 pm

boots.pngToday I’m at the University of Virginia where I’ve met some terrific grad students involved in evolution and genetics.  While wandering around, I also can’t help but also notice so many undergraduate women are wearing colorful rubber boots and it got me thinking about cultural evolution. I’ve yet to notice the trend at Duke, although perhaps it’s already making the commute 200 miles south.  All of this makes me wonder about the distribution of popular styles and accessories and how interesting it would be to map the persistence of trends (perhaps using GIS?) over time.  That said, I’ve a hunch that a quick scan of the literature would reveal some kind of related social models given we’re modeling everything these days from fisheries population dynamics to gene expression.  I’ve no doubt the social scientists are on top of this one.

Still, I wonder how a new trend is born and what determines its boundaries.  Surely there are always outliers, but many fads remain relatively localized as we shift latitude and longitude. For example, in Maine I expect to encounter Renys and Carhartts while in DC, long black coats and high heels are the norm. And how do such shifts occur temporally?  What led to the end the Parachute pants phenomenon and how did emo get started and then go mainstream?

I’ve no real thesis with this post, nor the time to search the library here at Gilmer Hall on the UVA campus for data on population demographics.  Yet it’s interesting to ponder on a rainy afternoon while waiting for a 3:30 lecture on plant genetics…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Travel, Uncategorized

Comments (10)

Links to this Post

  1. Повар | April 1, 2009
  2. To Hell In A Handbasket | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | April 3, 2009
  1. “I wonder how a new trend is born and what determines its boundaries”…


  2. pete

    haha I’ve seen those boots on campus!

  3. They were quite popular at the University of Kentucky too. Make of that what you will…

  4. I think this particular trend owes something to Target selling more than a hundred different colors and patterns of rain boots for under $20, which is a pretty cheap pair of shoes. It’s raining today. I saw a cute pair just off campus.

  5. It might just be a factor of when you visited. Check out the Capitol Hill, DC neighborhood on a rainy weekday morning, and there’s tons of young women–me included–wearing those colorful boots. They’re cheap at Target and keep your feet dry. Fun colors sell the practical points.

  6. Eric the Leaf

    I recalled that my old acquaintance Alex Bentley was on this one Unfortunately, the rest of the article is behind a pay wall.

  7. Tim

    I’ve seen them since last fall here at the 9-12 high school where I teach. I teach ninth graders in central Arkansas. These boots are worn here rain or shine.

  8. I wonder the same thing about kids’ culture. My daughters still skip to the same rhyme that I skipped to decades ago in a city hundreds of miles away (and I never taught it to them!). And yet there are other skipping rhymes and clapping games that are new.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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