Charles Darwin and Evolution
This year sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of the geologist and naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1892) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his revolutionary book On the Origin of Species, which explained his theory of natural selection and evolution.
Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, the grandson of the prominent naturalist and physician Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) and also of the celebrated potter Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795). Darwin studied medicine in Edinburgh and natural history at Cambridge, and one of his tutors there, J.S. Henslow (1796-1861), obtained for Darwin the position of naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle which undertook a 5-year scientific survey of South America in the 1830s. It was while travelling with the Beagle that Darwin was impressed by the incredible diversity of living things, and began to formulate his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin then spent many years gathering evidence in support of his theory.
The naturalist A. R. Wallace (1823-1913) had, independently of Darwin, also developed the idea of natural selection as the basis for evolution. Darwin and Wallace presented their papers together in 1858, and this was followed the next year by the publication of Darwin's great work On the Origin of Species.
Darwin explained the evolution of different species as a process of very gradual change over many, many generations, with gradual modifications from earlier forms. The starting point for change might be a minor genetic variation. A variation which improves the chances of survival of a particular living thing would improve its chances of reproduction and of passing that beneficial variation on to the next generation, which in turn would also be more likely to survive. This is 'natural selection'. Complex modifications may develop in this way over extremely long periods - ‘geologic’ time - with many new species evolving over millions of years.
This month we highlight descriptions for the papers of Charles Darwin and fellow scientists, and also descriptions for the papers of interested philosophers and clergymen. There are also links to selected websites and some suggested reading.
- Charles Darwin: Papers this collection was deposited at Cambridge University Library in 1942; includes correspondence, manuscripts and papers relating to publications; notes on the voyage of HMS Beagle, 1831-1836, and a collection of specimen seeds,
- Wedgwood family: the Staffordshire family best known for their highly successful pottery business; Darwin's mother was Susannah Wedgwood (1765–1817); and Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood (1808–1896) in 1839.
- J. S. Henslow: (1796-1861): botanist and clergyman, one of Darwin's tutors at Cambridge, who is said to have inspired Darwin's interest in natural history. Henslow set up the Museum of the Cambridge Philosophical Society with Leonard Jenyns in 1819 (now part of the University Museum of Zoology Cambridge); this collection consists of Henslow's notes for lectures on botany
- Charles Thomas Whitley (1808-1895): mathematician and clergyman, and a close friend of Darwin; this collection includes a letter from Henslow about casks of specimens from Darwin.
- Conrad Martens (1801-1878): landscape painter; in 1832 he joined Darwin as topographer on the Beagle, and made numerous sketeches while on the voyage.
- William Mogg (1796-1875); naval clerk; collection includes notes on his voyage on the HMS Beagle with Darwin.
- Fishes Collection of Darwin: 300 pages of notes on the fish collected by Darwin on the Beagle, compiled by Leonard Jenyns (1800-1893), a clergyman and naturalist; Jenyns changed his name to Leoard Blomefield in 1871.
- Edinburgh Plinian Society: learned society founded in 1823; Darwin was unanimously elected as member in 1826.
- Lydia Becker (1827-1890): suffragist; founded the Manchester Ladies' Literary Society, which was a centre for scientific interests, and at the first meeting a paper written by Darwin for the event was read to the audience.
- Charles Babington (1808-1895): botanist and archaeologist; this collection includes a set of letters from Darwin to Babington.
- Charles Lyell (1797-1875): influential geologist with an interest in natural history; Lyell introduced Darwin to Wallace's 1855 essay on natural selection; this collection of Lyell's papers includes an address on Darwin
- John Wesley Judd (1840-1916): geologist; provided the introduction to the 1890 edition of Darwin's Coral Reefs: Volcanic Islands, South American Geology
- Herbert Spencer (1820-1903): philosopher, scientist, and economist, who attempted to apply the theory of evolution to all the sciences; Darwin borrowed the term ‘survival of the fittest’ from Spencer's 1866 book Principles of Biology; and rather than some notion of physical fitness, 'fittest' here means the best-suited to a particular environment - in other words, it means 'natural selection'.
- J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964): 'neo-Darwinist' biologist, added new insights from genetics to Darwin's theories, author of The Causes of Evolution, 1932, and The Biochemistry of Genetics,1954.
- Edmund Brisco Ford (1901-1988): geneticist with an interest in moths, especially the industrial melanic peppered moth, which provides an important example of natural selection at work.
- John Bowlby (1907-1990): psychiatrist; author of Charles Darwin: a biography, 1990.
- Sydney Smith (1911-1988): zoologist and Darwin specialist; helped establish the Darwin Letters Project (now the Darwin Correspondence Project), whose British base is at Cambridge University Library.
- F. B. Jevons (1858-1936); Professor of Philosophy, with interests in comparative religion and evolution, author of Evolution, 1900, and Religion in Evolution, 1906
- Ernest William Barnes (1874-1953): Bishop of Birmingham, who preached what became known as 'gorilla' sermons supporting the theory of evolution.
- David Lambert Lack (1910-1973): ornithologist who studied Galapagos finches; author of Evolutionary theory and Christian belief: the unresolved conflict, 1957.
Links are provided to records on Copac for these items. Copac is the free, web based national union catalogue, containing the holdings of many of the major university and National Libraries in UK and Ireland plus a number of special libraries. For more information about accessing items see the FAQs on the Copac website.
- Charles Darwin: a biography John Bowlby (1990) Records on Copac
- Coral Reefs: Volcanic Islands, South American Geology Charles Darwin (1910, first published 1842-1846) Records on Copac
- On the origin of the species by means of natural selection Charles Darwin (1990, first published 1859) Records on Copac
- Evolution: selected letters of Charles Darwin 1860-1870 edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Samantha Evans and Alison Pearn; foreword by Sir David Attenborough (2008) Records on Copac
- The Causes of Evolution J. B. S. Haldane (1993, originally published 1932) Records on Copac
- Religion in Evolution F. B. Jevons (1906) Records on Copac
- The Coming of Evolution: the Story of a Great Evolution in Science John W. Judd (1910) Records on Copac
- Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief: the Unresolved Conflict David Lack (1957) Records on Copac
- The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design Richard Dawkins (1991) Records on Copac
- Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Evolution Randal Keynes (2001) Records on Copac (Keynes is a great-great grandson of Charles Darwin)
- The Young Darwin and his Cultural Circle: a study of influence which shaped the language and logic of the first drafts of the theory of natural selection Edward Manier (1978) Records on Copac
- Evolution Colin Patterson (2nd edition, 1999) Records on Copac
- 99% Ape: How evolution adds up edited by Jonathan Silvertown (2008) Records on Copac
- Darwin200: celebrating Darwin's ideas about evolution (Natural History Museum website)
- Darwin Online: the complete works of Darwin online: the largest and most widely used Darwin resource
- Darwin Correspondence Project: founded in 1974 by an American scholar, Frederick Burkhardt, with the aid of Sydney Smith, a zoologist in the University of Cambridge
- Conrad Martens Sketchbooks: Marten's drawings from his time on the Beagle (Cambridge University Library website)
- Darwin@LSE: explores recent developments in evolutionary thinking (London School of Economics website)
- Charles Darwin Foundation: founded in 1959 to research into conservation in the Galapagos islands
- Down House - Home of Charles Darwin: an English Heritage property, and the UK's 2009 nomination for World Heritage Status (Downe, Kent)
- Wedgwood Museum: collections of Wedgwood ware and the story of the company (Stoke-on-Trent).
- Charles Darwin: 23 photographs, drawings, sculptures and paintings at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Darwin at the Museum: about Darwin's collection at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
- Darwin's big birthday bash at the Manchester Museum, February 14th.
- Galapagos Adventure at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, February 16th-20th
- Darwin and the Story of Evolution: exhibition at the British Library about On the Origin of Species until March 22nd
- Darwin - Big idea big exhibition: exhibition at the Natural History Museum until April 19th.
- Charles Darwin in Europe - A one-day colloquium at Christ's College, Cambridge, on February 26th
- Darwin College lectures: public lectures, February-March 2009
- Darwin 2009 - Anniversary Festival at the University of Cambridge, July 6th-10th
- Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum, London; opening September 2009
- Charles Darwin: the evolution of a scientist: exhibition at The Manchester Museum from October 2009
photograph (top right) of vivarium in The Manchester Museum, copyright © The University of Manchester
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