Digitised Darwin

May 31, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Darwin OnlineGood old evolutionist, Charles Darwin, has been digitised. Well, not Darwin himself but his letters and correspondence. As we know, Darwin spent five happy years voyaging around the world on The Beagle. Apparently, he described this episode of his life as a “magnificent scheme” allowing him to spend time “larking round the world“.

Cambridge University has chronicled Darwin’s voyages in the Darwin Correspondence Project, which digitises around 5,000 letters and summarises a further 9,000, some of which Darwin wrote at 12 years of age. There are some personal gems amongst the letters. Writing to his sister, Caroline, Darwin confesses that he only washed his feet once a month, which he confessed was “nasty”. Hate to think about the personal hygiene issues on The Beagle!

Whilst busy working on his theory of evolution, Darwin nevertheless found the time to exchange 2000 letters during his lifetime (1809-1882). Perhaps surprisingly, pigeon fanciers were amongst his correspondents. Pigeon breeding was a widespread activity in Darwin’s time and the network of pigeon fanciers provided a good opportunity to study a species under domestication. Included in the collection are letters between Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently formulated a theory of evolution by natural selection. In one letter to Wallace, Darwin observed: “I can plainly see that we have thought much alike and to a certain extent have come to similar conclusions“.

The site launched on May 17 2007 and is freely available. Darwin Online features a remarkable field notebook of the Galapagas Islands in which Darwin made detailed observations that informed his theory of evolution. The notebook was stolen in the 1980s and is still missing, but has been reconstructed from a microfilm copy. What a great resource for serious scholars or for those of us simply fascinated by history. I’ve pinched the photo accompanying this post from the Darwin Online site as it’s a classic!

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Entry filed under: Charles Darwin, History, Information management, Useful resources.

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