Articles on Darwin’s Botany

In the December 2009 issue of American Journal of Botany:

Craig W. Whippo and Roger P. Hangarter, The “sensational” power of movement in plants: A Darwinian system for studying the evolution of behavior” Am. J. Bot. 2009 96: 2115-2127.

Abstract. Darwin’s research on botany and plant physiology was a landmark attempt to integrate plant movements into a biological perspective of behavior. Since antiquity, people have sought to explain plant movements via mechanical or physiological forces, and yet they also constructed analogies between plant and animal behavior. During the Renaissance and Enlightenment, thinkers began to see that physiochemical explanations of plant movements could equally apply to animal behavior and even human thought. Darwin saw his research on plant movements as a strategic front against those who argued that his theory of evolution could not account for the acquisition of new behavioral traits. He believed that his research explained how the different forms of plant movement evolved as modified habits of circumnutation, and he presented evidence that plants might have a brain-like organ, which could have acquired various types of plant sensitivity during evolution. Upon publication of The Power of Movement in Plants, his ideas were overwhelmingly rejected by plant physiologists. Subsequently, plant biologists came to view the work as an important contribution to plant physiology and biology, but its intended contribution to the field of evolution and behavior has been largely overlooked.

Tim Wing Yam, Joseph Arditti, and Kenneth M. Cameron,“The orchids have been a splendid sport”—an alternative look at Charles Darwin’s contribution to orchid biology” Am. J. Bot. 2009 96: 2128-2154.

Abstract. Charles Darwin’s work with orchids and his thoughts about them are of great interest and not a little pride for those who are interested in these plants, but they are generally less well known than some of his other studies and ideas. Much has been published on what led to his other books and views. However, there is a paucity of information in the general literature on how Darwin’s orchid book came about. This review will describe how The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects came into being and will discuss the taxonomy of the orchids he studied. It also will concentrate on some of the less well-known aspects of Darwin’s work and observations on orchids—namely, rostellum, seeds and their germination, pollination effects, and resupination—and their influence on subsequent investigators, plant physiology, and orchid science.

Also, the January 2009 issue had a few articles about Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery.’

Darwin’s Origin at the National Library of Australia

From the HIST-SCI-TECH listserve:

“What say the birds of Australia to this?” – Darwin’s Origin at the National Library of Australia

Earlier this year, the National Library of Australia acquired a copy of the first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, perhaps one of the most influential books of the nineteenth century.

Believed to be one of the earliest surviving copies of Darwin’s work to have arrived in Australia, the Library’s copy was first owned by Dr William Woolls of Parramatta, N.S.W. and it bears his inscription and the date March 17 1860 on the front free end paper. Woolls, a clergyman and schoolmaster, was also a noted botanist. He wrote many articles and papers on the subject and was made a fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 1865 and was later awarded a doctorate by the University of Göttingen for a dissertation on the botany of the Parramatta region. His name is commemorated in the genus Woollsia, as well as the name of six species.

The book contains many pencilled annotations made by Woolls and these provide a fascinating insight into the reception of Darwin’s revolutionary ideas on a well-educated reader at the other side of the world. Although many of the annotations have faded with the passage of time, some of Woolls notes are still legible. While some of the comments show agreement with Darwin’s theories, other comments call into question the author’s statements, in a couple of instances drawing upon Australian examples. Next to a passage on birds learning to fear man, for example, Woolls has written “what say the birds of Australia to this?”

The digital version of the Library’s copy of Origin is available through our catalogue:

Lumpers and Splitters: Darwin, Hooker, and the Search for Order

From the December 11, 2009 issue of Science:

Lumpers and Splitters: Darwin, Hooker, and the Search for Order

Jim Endersby

Classification was a key practice of the natural history sciences in the early 19th century, but leading taxonomists disagreed over basic matters, such as how many species the British flora contained. In this arena, the impact of Charles Darwin’s ideas was surprisingly limited. For taxonomists like Darwin’s friend, Joseph Dalton Hooker, the priority was to establish a reputation as a philosophical naturalist, and to do so Hooker embarked on a survey of global vegetation patterns. He believed that taxonomic “splitters” hindered his ambition to create natural laws for botany (and hence establish it as a prestigious science) by generating a multitude of redundant synonyms for every plant variety. Despite the fact that Darwin’s ideas apparently promised a justification for splitting, they also offered a philosophical justification for Hooker’s taxonomic practice, and so he enthusiastically championed his friend.

Youngsters dredge Darwin’s pond

From the News Shopper (UK, 5 Dec. 2009):

CUDHAM: Youngsters dredge Darwin's pond

Rose Garnson, 6, with fellow pupils

CUDHAM: Youngsters dredge Darwin’s Pond

YOUNGSTERS spent the day replicating Charles Darwin’s experiments to mark 150 years since the scientist published his most famous work.

Pupils at Cudham Primary School collected mud samples from the same pond used by Darwin which still exists in their school grounds.

The samples were then taken back to the classroom to see if plants can grow from seeds in the pond mud.

A spokesman for Bromley Council’s world heritage team said: “Cudham Primary School will be linking up with schools in the Galapagos who are also investigating and comparing the observations and experiments that Darwin carried out in their local area.”

Youngsters also visited Down House in Downe to mark 150 years since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

JOURNAL: Darwin Special Issue of ‘History of Science’

The December 2009 issue of History of Science (Vol. 47, No. 4) is devoted to Darwin:

Iwan Ryhs Morus

Charles Darwin Solves the “Riddle of the Flower”; or, Why Don’t Historians of Biology Know about the Birds and the Bees?
Richard Bellon

Darwinian Struggles: But Is There Progress?
Michael Ruse

The Eclipse of Pseudo-Darwinism? Reflections on Some Recent Developments in Darwin Studies
Peter J. Bowler

The Undead Darwin: Iconic Narrative, Scientific Controversy and the History of Science
Amanda Rees

Darwin Online and the Evolution of the Darwin Industry
John van Wyhe

Essay Reviews

Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822–1859(Anniversary edition), edited by F. Burkhardt, and other works by Charles Darwin
Jim Endersby

Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution, and Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform, by Martin J. S. Rudwick
Adelene Buckland

Darwin’s Plants: New Children’s Book & Beagle Collection Website

Following in Darwin's Footsteps (Kew)

Following in Darwin's Footsteps (Kew)

From the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (London) comes a book for children that accompanies their education program, The Great Plant Hunt: following in Darwin’s footsteps. Following in Darwin’s Footsteps is due out in May 2010. The Great Plant Hunt also has a YouTube page, which includes a little song:

Speaking of Darwin and plants, the University of Cambridge has launched a new website, Darwin’s Plants from the Beagle Voyage, where “you can see high resolution images of the very plants collected by Charles Darwin on his round-the-world voyage on HMS Beagle 1831 to 1836.”


Lophosoria quadripinnata, in Chiloé, June 1834

Darwin Round-Up

Monday, November 16th is the deadline for submissions to Charlie’s Playhouse’s “Ask the Kids” [about evolution] project.  More information here.

I somehow neglected to share Ben Fry’s very cool digital rendition of the six editions of On the Origin of Species and the changes therein: “The Preservation of Favoured Traces.”

The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences blog that accompanies their new Darwin as a geologist exhibit (my pics) has a short write up on the “Darwin in the Field” conference I attended last July, here. Also, the newsletter of the Palaeontological Association (they provided funding for the conference, including travel money for myself and a post-doc at the Smithsonian) has a report of the conference written by, well, me! You can see it at the bottom of page 56 in this PDF.

Two freely available articles from Bioscience: “The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea” [PDF] by James Costa and “Ten Myths about Charles Darwin” [PDF] by Kevin Padian [previous posts with Padian].

Nature has started a series on Darwin and culture called “Global Darwin”: “Darwin and culture,” “Global Darwin: Eastern enchantment,” and “Global Darwin: Contempt for competition.” These pieces explore a variety of reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Also titled “Global Darwin” is a 2009 lecture by Jim Secord. Access it here. At the same site are lectures by Janet Browne and Rebecca Stott.

Here is a page for the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin and the Rise of Evolutionary Theory, and two sets of pictures on Flickr showing a Darwin exhibition (Darwin’s Legacy) at the National Museum of Natural History, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Darwin Online has put up the annotated copy of On the Origin of Species owned by Darwin’s third son, and experimental assistant, Francis.

Videos of many lectures from the University of Cambridge’s Darwin Festival in July are up on YouTube.

Darwinfest: Bold Ideas Change Worlds, at ASU, has its own website. Darwin biographer Janet Browne will give a lecture on November 13th. Previous lectures from throughout 2009 are available for download.

Historian of science Jim Endersby will talk on “Darwin, Hooker, and Empire” on November 18th  in conjunction with the American Philosophical Society’s exhibition Dialogues with Darwin: An Exhibition of Historical Documents and Contemporary Art. Website here, and a fun Flickr photo set of post-it notes that visitors filled out and placed on a tree of life diagram. Another recent lecture of Endersby’s, “Smashing Species: Joseph Hooker and Victorian Science” for the Royal Society, can be downloaded as an mp3.

Christ’s College, Cambridge has a website for Darwin, with lots of resources.

“Who can head the words of Charlie Darwin…”

Cambridge Library Collection’s Life Science series offers reprints of many historically important books (71 titles), many of which are on Amazon.

Via Genomicron, “This View of Life: Evolutionary Art for the Year of Darwin”:

Evolutionary art is the topic of many books this year: Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture by Jonathan Smith; Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts by Jane Munro; Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins; The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture by Barbara Larson and Fae Bauer; Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution by Phillip Prodger; Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia by Jeanette Hoorn; and Darwin’s Pictures: Views of Evolutionary Theory, 1837-1874 by Julia Voss.

In Evolution: Education and Outreach is an article by U. Kutschera called “Darwin’s Philosophical Imperative and the Furor Theologicus: “In 1859 Charles Darwin submitted a manuscript entitled “An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties through Natural Selection” to John Murray III, who published the text under the title On the Origin of Species. On many pages of this book, Darwin contrasts his naturalistic theory that explains the transmutation and diversification of animals and plants with the Bible-based belief that all species were independently created. On the last page of the first edition, published in November 1859, where Darwin speculated on the origin of the earliest forms of life from which all other species have descended, no reference to “the Creator” is made. In order to conciliate angry clerics and hence to tame the erupted furor theologicus, Darwin included the phrase “by the Creator” in the second edition of 1860 and in all subsequent versions of his book (sixth ed. 1872). However, in a letter of 1863, Darwin distanced himself from this Bible-based statement and wrote that by creation he means “appeared by some wholly unknown process.” In 1871, Darwin proposed a naturalistic origin-of-life-concept but did not dare to mention his “warm little pond hypothesis” in the sixth definitive edition of the Origin (1872). I conclude that the British naturalist strictly separated scientific facts and theories from religious dogmas (Darwin’s “philosophical imperative”) and would not endorse current claims by the Catholic Church and other Christian associations that evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible.”

EEO also has a piece about the traveling Darwin exhibition by Chiara Ceci, “Darwin: Origin and Evolution of an Exhibition”: “Two hundred years after his birth, Darwin, originated by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is the most important exhibition about the English scientist ever organized for the general public. This traveling exhibition has appeared in many versions worldwide, and a study of the relationships between local developers of the various editions of the exhibition underlines how a scientific exhibition and, more generally, science communication can succeed in striking a good equilibrium between universal content and cultural determinants.”

“Discover the principles of evolution through animations, movies and simulations” at Evolution of Life.

Several articles have appeared this year in the Journal of the History of Biology touching on Darwin and evolution in general: “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire” (M.J.S. Hodge); “The Origins of Species: The Debate between August Weismann and Moritz Wagner” (Charlotte Weissman); “Edward Hitchcock’s Pre-Darwinian (1840) ‘Tree of Life’” (J. David Archibald); “Tantalizing Tortoises and the Darwin-Galápagos Legend” (Frank J. Sulloway); “‘A Great Complication of Circumstances’ – Darwin and the Economy of Nature” (Trevor Pearce); “Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and ‘The Gradual Birth & Death of Species’” (Paul D. Brinkman); “Darwin and Inheritance: The Influence of Prosper Lucas” (Ricardo Noguera-Solano and Rosaura Ruiz-Gutiérrez); and “Of Mice and Men: Evolution and the Socialist Utopia. William Morris, H.G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw” (Piers J. Hale).

A Darwin article in Plant Biology: “From Charles Darwin’s botanical country-house studies to modern plant biology”: “As a student of theology at Cambridge University, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) attended the lectures of the botanist John S. Henslow (1796-1861). This instruction provided the basis for his life-long interest in plants as well as the species question. This was a major reason why in his book On the Origin of Species, which was published 150 years ago, Darwin explained his metaphorical phrase `struggle for life’ with respect to animals and plants. In this article, we review Darwin’s botanical work with reference to the following topics: the struggle for existence in the vegetable kingdom with respect to the phytochrome-mediated shade avoidance response; the biology of flowers and Darwin’s plant-insect co-evolution hypothesis; climbing plants and the discovery of action potentials; the power of movement in plants and Darwin’s conflict with the German plant physiologist Julius Sachs; and light perception by growing grass coleoptiles with reference to the phototropins. Finally, we describe the establishment of the scientific discipline of Plant Biology that took place in the USA 80 years ago, and define this area of research with respect to Darwin’s work on botany and the physiology of higher plants.”

And another in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences: “Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875″: “The traditional characterization of Charles Darwin as a strong advocate of physiological experimentation on animals was posited in Richard French’s Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian England (1975), where French portrayed him as a soldier in Thomas Huxley’s efforts to preserve anatomical experimentation on animals unfettered by government regulation. That interpretation relied too much on, inter alia, Huxley’s own description of the legislative battles of 1875, and shared many historians’ propensity to foster a legacy of Darwin as a leader among a new wave of scientists, even where personal interests might indicate a conflicting story. Animal rights issues concerned more than mere science for Darwin, however, and where debates over other scientific issues failed to inspire Darwin to become publicly active, he readily joined the battle over vivisection, helping to draft legislation which, in many ways, was more protective of animal rights than even the bills proposed by his friend and anti-vivisectionist, Frances Power Cobbe. Darwin may not have officially joined Cobbe’s side in the fight, but personal correspondence of the period between 1870 and 1875 reveals a man whose first interest was to protect animals from inhumane treatment, and second to protect the reputations of those men and physiologists who were his friends, and who he believed incapable of inhumane acts. On this latter point he and Cobbe never did reach agreement, but they certainly agreed on the humane treatment of animals, and the need to proscribe various forms of animal experimentation.”

“Darwinism Comes to Penn” [PDF], in The Pennsylvania Gazette: “A century-and-a-half after the November 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, a Penn microbiologist looks back at how Darwin’s ideas were received by some of the University’s leading thinkers.”

In the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, “WWDD? (What Would Darwin Do?)” [PDF], looks at evolution research and publishing: “We have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. While I hope we all rejoiced in the success of evolutionary biology and its continued growth, we should not become complacent. Although these are indeed events to celebrate, we still face the real threat of general ignorance of Darwin’s ideas. World leaders (or would-be world leaders) still promote superstition, stories and unthinking acceptance of dogma over scientific evidence. Evolutionary biologists have succeeded in investigating the magnificence, the wonder, the complexity, and the detail of evolution and its role in generating biodiversity. Evolutionary biologists have been less successful in making this relevant to those who are not biologists (and even, alas, some biologists). Is evolutionary biology likely to thrive when governments demand an immediate return on their research investment? How do we begin to educate others as to the value and importance of evolutionary research? I do not begin to claim that I can fathom the mind of Darwin, but I cannot help wondering – what would Darwin do today? Would he respond? How would he respond? And, what would be the form of his response?”

Jerry Coyne on “Why Evolution is True”:

Daniel Dennett on “Darwin and the Evolution of Why”:

A new book “offers a primer in the history of the development of evolution as a discipline after Darwin’s book and in how evolution is defined today”: The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2009) by UCR biologist David Reznick. You can read the introduction on the publisher’s page for the book.

Richard Dawkins closes his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by going through and detailing each line of the famous closing paragraph (“There is grandeur in this view of life…”) of On the Origin of Species. It’s available online, for you, to read, and ponder.

“The Evolution of Charles Darwin,” a 4-part series on CBC Radio One: “Ideas pays tribute to Charles Darwin and celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of his transformational and contentious book, On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory of evolution through Natural Selection completely changed how we think about the world. In this 4-part series, Seth Feldman guides us through the life and ideas of Charles Darwin, a creative genius. The series is produced by Sara Wolch.” Via Adrian.

Via The Evolution List, The Darwinian Revolutions Video Series: “This series of six online videos is a brief introduction to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and its implications.” The short videos are: Darwinian Revolutions, Evolutionary Ancestors, Lamarck’s Theory, One Long Argument, Mendel-Eclipse of Darwin, and The Evolving Synthesis.

The November 2009 issue of Naturwissenschaften is devoted to Darwin. The articles are “Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, directional selection, and the evolutionary sciences today” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera); “Darwin’s warm little pond revisited: From molecules to the origin of life” [PDF] (Hartmut Follmann and Carol Brownson); “Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics” [PDF] (Rolf G. Beutel, Frank Friedrich and Richard A. B. Leschen); “The predictability of evolution: Glimpses into a post-Darwinian world” [PDF] (Simon Conway Morris); and “Evolutionary plant physiology: Charles Darwin’s forgotten synthesis” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera and Karl J. Niklas).

Two more articles consider Darwin and the origin of life. In Endeavour James E. Strick offers “Darwin and the origin of life: public versus private science”: “In the first twenty years after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an intense debate took place within the ranks of Darwin’s supporters over exactly what his theory implied about the means by which the original living organism formed on Earth. Many supporters of evolutionary science also supported the doctrine of spontaneous generation: life forming from nonliving material not just once but many times up to the present day. Darwin was ambivalent on this topic. He feared its explosive potential to drive away liberal-minded Christians who might otherwise be supporters. His ambivalent wording created still more confusion, both among friends and foes, about what Darwin actually believed about the origin of life. A famous lecture by Thomas H. Huxley in 1870 set forth what later became the ‘party line’ Darwinian position on the subject.” In Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, Juli Peretó, Jeffrey L. Bada and Antonio Lazcano offer another analysis in “Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life”: “When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species 150 years ago he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. However, analysis of some other texts written by Darwin, and of the correspondence he exchanged with friends and colleagues demonstrates that he took for granted the possibility of a natural emergence of the first life forms. As shown by notes from the pages he excised from his private notebooks, as early as 1837 Darwin was convinced that “the intimate relation of Life with laws of chemical combination, & the universality of latter render spontaneous generation not improbable”. Like many of his contemporaries, Darwin rejected the idea that putrefaction of preexisting organic compounds could lead to the appearance of organisms. Although he favored the possibility that life could appear by natural processes from simple inorganic compounds, his reluctance to discuss the issue resulted from his recognition that at the time it was possible to undertake the experimental study of the emergence of life.”


PZ Myers live-blogged on Pharyngula talks given at Chicago’s big Darwin festival, Darwin/Chicago 2009. Science Life also has a piece about the conference.

From the August 24, 2009 issue of Significance, two Darwin articles: “Darwin, Mendel and the evolution of evolution” by R. Allan Reese: “The history of science is full of myths. Darwin has his fair share; but Gregor Mendel, his fellow scientist and contemporary, has suffered even more. R. Allan Reese disentangles what we like to believe about Mendel from what we should believe—and finds a modern species whose origin was not by conventional evolution;” and “Cousins: Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton and the birth of eugenics” by Nicholas W. Gillham: “Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”

In Archives of Natural History of October 2009 is a short article, “Letters from Alfred Russel Wallace concerning the Darwin commemorations of 1909″ by Henry A McGhie.

Down/e and Back Again, A Barton’s Tale

Darwin's Greenhouse, Down House

Darwin's Greenhouse, Down House

On Darwin's Sandwalk, Down House

On Darwin's Sandwalk, Down House


Down House

Down House

As I am sure you can tell, I had the opportunity to visit Darwin’s home and laboratory for forty years, Down House, while I was in London. See more pictures here. The weather was to be rainy that day, but luckily the clouds broke and sunshine spilled forth. Did I enjoy the visit? What do you think?

REVIEW: “Darwin’s Darkest Hour” on PBS’s NOVA

I was sent a review copy of Darwin’s Darkest Hour (website/watch online), the two-hour docudrama from NOVA/National Geographic, which aired on PBS on October 6th. I watched it last week, and here are my thoughts.

Darwin (Ian Cusick) & his wife Emma (Frances O'Connor)

Darwin (Ian Cusick) & his wife Emma (Frances O'Connor)

I’ve known about this Darwin film since late July, and had been looking forward to it for several reasons. One, I wondered how it would compare with the docudrama portions of the “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” episode of the series Evolution that aired on PBS in 2001. Two, having anticipated (and still looking forward to seeing) the film Creation (open in the UK and elsewhere, not in the US until December) featuring Paul Bettany as Darwin since at least September 2008, it was good to see another production looking at the same time period of Darwin’s life (the post-Beagle, Origin-writing 1850s). I of course cannot compare Darwin’s Darkest Hour to Creation, but I might have a comment or two based on reviews of Creation elsewhere.

Alfred Russel Wallace (Rhys Bevan-John)

Alfred Russel Wallace (Rhys Bevan-John)

Darwin’s Darkest Hour begins in March 1858 in Ternate (in present-day Indonesia). We see a man in his jungle hut, in a malarial fever, murmuring to himself “Malthus,” thoughts on human populations, “external pressures” as he jots down words onto paper. Before this scene ends, we see him preparing a letter to C Darwin Esq. This man, as we will find out soon, is Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist and co-discoverer with Darwin of the theory of natural selection. It is this the delivery of this letter, from Wallace to Darwin, that becomes Darwin’s darkest hour. (For more on Wallace’s places of residence while collecting in the Malay Archipelago [Indonesia], see George Beccaloni’s essay “Homes Sweet Homes: A Biographical Tour of Wallace’s Many Places of Residence” in Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, pp. 7-43.)

When Darwin receives the letter, then begins a whole dialogue between Darwin and his wife Emma about his having priority to the idea of natural selection. We are taken to defining moments during the voyage of HMS Beagle and through the pages of his transmutation notebooks via this dialogue (it is in this dialogue that some rather corny exchanges enter, for example, on being shown his Notebook D, Emma asks Darwin “for the devil?” – yes, we know Emma was religious, but seriously?). It seemed odd to me that, in the film, Emma becomes Darwin’s supporter for ensuring his priority, and only after she and Darwin sort it out (mentions of his essay of 1844, a letter to Asa Gray, etc.) is it something that needs to be brought to Charles Lyell (I enjoyed this figure in the film) and Joseph Dalton Hooker (I did not enjoy the actor chosen to play him), men of high scientific standing who decide to have materials from both Darwin and Wallace read before the Linnean Society.

Aspects of Darwin’s life that have become all too familiar are treated in this film: his wretched health, his dealing with the deaths of two of his children, the apparent conflict with Fitzroy over the literal interpretation of Genesis during the voyage. The death of Darwin’s daughter Annie in 1851 – which some believe was the final straw in pushing Darwin away from Christianity, and thus allowing Darwin to further explore his thoughts on transmutation, and others not, most notably in the blogosphere Mark Pallen – occurs in Darwin’s Darkest Hour as memories, while the death of a son (Charles Waring Darwin) in 1858, is treated fully. (The inaccurate order of historical events in Creation is the main critique of that film by science educator James Williams, whose review appeared on this blog.) The scene of young Charles’s funeral is intertwined with the scene showing the reading of Darwin and Wallace’s materials at the Linnean Society, which neither attended (Wallace because he was nowhere near London and Darwin because of the death of Charles Waring). I liked the back-and-forth of dialogue:

REVEREND INNES: “Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. In the midst of life we are in death.”

JOHN BENNETT: Extracts from papers by Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Russell Wallace: Part One by Mr. Darwin, “On Variation under Domestication and on the Principles of Selection.”

REVEREND INNES: “Of whom may we seek for succor, but of Thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased.”

JOHN BENNETT: “Be it remembered, I have nothing to say about life and mind and all forms descending from one common type. I speak of the variation of the existing great divisions of the organized kingdom. Nature could effect, with selection, such changes slowly.”

REVEREND INNES: “Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother, here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

JOHN BENNETT: “We know the state of the earth has changed, and as earthquakes and tides go on, the state must change. Many geologists believe a slow natural cooling…”

Extracts from a paper by Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.”

“One of the strongest arguments which have been adduced to prove…”

Darwin and a son doing science

Darwin and a son doing science

What I thought was nicely done is showing how Darwin’s family was heavily involved in his work at Down House, the domesticity of Darwin’s research. He was an unconventional father, very involved in the raising of his children, and at times his children became themselves scientific subjects. The scenes showing Darwin’s children assisting, or being attentive to, his various experiments on plants and bees were my favorite, especially – and this should be no surprise – the scene about the seed dispersal experiments. Yet Darwin had his butler Parslow shoot birds for him, unlike in the film. [See Endersby's recent article on Darwin, Hooker, botany, and sympathetic science.]

What I particularly liked about Darwin’s Darkest Hour is that it did not take one single stance on Darwin’s delay, the two-decade period in between Darwin beginning his research on transmutation and the publication of On the Origin of Species.  It brings in a little bit of many views historians have proposed: that Darwin feared public scrutiny, that Darwin feared conflict with his religious wife, that Darwin simply wanted more time to make sure his theory was right (in response to negative reviews of Vestiges of Creation [1844]), etc. (see John van Wyhe’s article on Darwin’s delay). Brian of Laelaps thought this inability for the scriptwriter to stick with one storyline made the film difficult to follow.

I do agree with Brian that the appearance of the actor who played Darwin (Ian Cusick) should have changed with how Darwin’s appearance changed in real life, i.e., that Darwin, by the time he published On the Origin of Species, was balding and did not have the flowing hair of Cusick. Nice to see Wallace appear in the film, though I do not know if Darwin and Wallace met at the Linnean Society and Wallace being introduced to Lyell. I could not, however, believe in the actor portraying Fitzroy.

Although I felt I was being forced to watch Masterpiece Theatre, I do think Darwin’s Darkest Hour is an improvement from the docudrama portions of “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” and could serve as a nice introduction to folks unfamiliar with Darwin’s life. Do check out the various resources on the film’s website, including a piece on Wallace by Sean B. Carroll,  an interview with the scriptwriter, and the entire transcript.

LECTURE (tonight): The “irritable power” of carnivorous plants: Mary Treat, Charles Darwin and floral metaphors in the evolutionary narrative


The “irritable power” of carnivorous plants: Mary Treat, Charles Darwin and floral metaphors in the evolutionary narrative

17th September 2009 at 6:00pm

An evening meeting at The Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BF

Speakers: Dawn Sanders FLS, Tina Gianquitto FLS and Randal Keynes FLS

Interest in insectivorous plants swept through both England and America in the 1870s and 1880s, judging by the number of articles published in popular periodicals. Both male and female authors, especially the American naturalist and popular science writer Mary Treat, fell under the spell of these “murderous plants” and spent considerable energy researching and writing about their hidden lives. This lecture will examine the ways in which insectivorous plants, made their way into the popular culture and how Charles Darwin and Mary Treat used their garden laboratories to understand the science of their digestive mechanisms.

Tea will be served in the Library from 5.30pm and the lecture will be followed by a wine reception.  This meeting is free and open to all; registration is not necessary.

Outline of the young Darwin

Outline of the young Darwin, originally uploaded by gphkew.

This image would work well I think for a coloring page for kids. It is for The Great Plant Hunt, a UK project to get children interested in science. Click here for the larger size, and here to see other images from The Great Plant Hunt, including a colored version of this image.

Cambridge Trip #10: Natural History Museum, London

Tuesday, 12 July 2009

This morning I left Cambridge. I just want to make note of one of the books that sat on the nightstand in my bed and breakfast room:

Books in my room, Cambridge, England

Books in my room, Cambridge, England

That book on top is Period Piece by Gwen Raverat. Raverat was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and Period Piece is her memoir about her childhood in Cambridge, and recollections of the Darwin family.

Walking from my lodgings to the train station, I passed by the entrance to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. This, along with the Darwin and art exhibit Endless Forms at the Fitzwilliam Museum, is one of the places I wanted to visit but missed (the botanic garden has an exhibit on Darwin and carnivorous plants).

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

As I walked from the garden entrance to the train station, one of the wheels on my bag busted off. No good. At times I carried it and other times I just let the one side of the bag drag on the ground – it depended on the condition of the sidewalks: smooth or higgledly-piggledly. When on the train from Cambridge to London, the train’s power failed while in a  tunnel and we sat there for about 20 minutes. Remember that on the tube in London when heading to King’s Cross Station on my first day in England the track failed, leading to my regretting the decision to use the stairs rather than the elevator to get above ground. To and fro did not treat me well on this trip, but while I was at my destinations everything was great!

Before getting to Heathrow Airport, I decided to get off at the South Kensington station to quickly visit Karen James at the Natural History Museum (whom I had also seen in Cambridge). Turns out she was too busy with meetings, but I got to walk around the museum for about an hour, picked up a few souviners, and met up with another good friend. I was surprised at how many visitors there were in the museum. While that is understandable given the free admission, a  girl working in the museum store told me that this day was rather slow, because school had not yet let out. Here are some photos from my visit to NHM:

Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London

Butterfly Jungle, Natural History Museum, London

Butterfly Jungle, Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London

After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions, Natural History Museum, London

After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions, Natural History Museum, London

After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions was open but I hadn’t the time:

In After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions, major artists and writers exhibit newly-commissioned and existing work, inspired by Charles Darwin’s book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Their pieces explore Darwin’s theory that expressing emotion is not unique to humans, but is shared with animals.

Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London

Ammonite fossil, Natural History Museum, London

Ammonite fossil, Natural History Museum, London

Tree (Darwin-inspired ceiling art), Natural History Museum, London

Tree (Darwin-inspired ceiling art), Natural History Museum, London

Darwin Shop, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin Shop, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin Shop, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin Shop, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin Shop, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin Shop, Natural History Museum, London

At the Darwin Shop I picked up coffee mug with Darwin’s tree of life sketch on it, and Kristan Lawson’s Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities:

Darwin Mug from Natural History Museum, London

Darwin Mug from Natural History Museum, London

Darwin and Evolution for Kids by Kristan Lawson

Darwin and Evolution for Kids by Kristan Lawson

I took pictures of the other books I got during the trip, and all the Darwin literature (brochures, postcards, etc.).

Marine Reptiles, Natural History Museum, London

Marine Reptiles, Natural History Museum, London

Plesiosaur, Natural History Museum, London

Plesiosaur, Natural History Museum, London

Diplodocus (Dippy), Natural History Museum, London

Diplodocus ("Dippy"), Natural History Museum, London

About this statue, which replaced a statue of Richard Owen at the top of the stairs:

The Darwin statue was created by Sir Joseph Boehm and was unveiled on 9 June 1885. In 1927 it was moved to make way for an Indian elephant specimen, and then moved again in 1970 to the North Hall. The statue’s return to its original prime position is in time for the anniversary of Darwin’s birth 200 years ago, and for the start of the programme of Darwin200 events.

Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London

It says:

“Freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.”

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)

Dedicated by The Rt Hon Andrew Burnham MP. Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, on the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, 12 February 2009

Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London

This is my favorite photo from the NHM:

Darwin reflecting on mans ancestry, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin reflecting on man's ancestry, Natural History Museum, London

Darwins view, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin's view, Natural History Museum, London

And of course, me with the man who gave reason for my trip to Cambridge:

Darwin & Me, Natural History Museum, London

Darwin & me, Natural History Museum, London

Woolly Rhino, Natural History Museum, London

Woolly Rhino, Natural History Museum, London

Toxodon, Natural History Museum, London

Toxodon, Natural History Museum, London

Here is the last photograph I took on the trip:

South Kensington station, London

South Kensington station, London

Made my way to Heathrow, got lunch, damn near missed my flight, flew to Minneapolis, bumped into George from the American Computer Museum in Bozeman there (we were on the same flight), and after a delay flew home to Bozeman. And that was that. Not bad for my first trip out of the United States. I will be going to London this fall for a research trip (archives at the Royal Insitution and Kew Gardens), and will spend more time at the Natural History Museum and – how can I not! – visit Down House, Darwin’s home and laboratory for four decades. If the Darwin biopic Creation (check out the very cool flash website) has not opened in the states yet, I will hopefully see it in London.

The HMS Beagle Project has recently started doing podcasts. The second episode features Karen and Richard, and they both talk about their time with me in Cambridge. Karen said my trip to Cambridge was my Mecca. You can listen to it here.

You can view all the photos from my trip here, if you feel so inclined. Some of Richard’s Cambridge photos are here.

PREVIOUS: Cambridge Trip #9: Darwin’s Room at Christ’s CollegeCambridge Trip #8: Darwin’s Microscope at the Whipple Museum of the History of ScienceCambridge Trip #7: Beetles, Finches and Barnacles at the University Museum of ZoologyCambridge Trip #6: Darwin the Geologist at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth SciencesCambridge Trip #5: Darwin Groupies Explore CambridgeCambridge Trip #4: Darwin in the Field Conference, Pt. 2Cambridge Trip #3: Darwin in the Field ConferenceCambridge Trip #2: Finding My WayCambridge Trip #1: Traveling

PODCAST: More Darwin Podcasts from Endless Forms Exhibit

As part of hosting the art exhibit Endless Forms: Darwin, Natural Science & the Arts (opened June 16th), the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England is doing a series of podcasts. I have posted the first 3 episodes so far (here, here, and here), and here are others:

4. Uncovering our Origins: Monkeys, Apes and “Primitive Man’ – and how Darwin got it wrong (with Richard Foley)

5. ‘Flaunting It’ – Sexual Selection and the Courtship of Nature (with Tim Clutton-Brock)

6. A Tour of ‘Endless Forms’ (with Sir Paul Nurse)

7. Evolving Philosophy (with Philip Kitcher)

8. Darwin, Hooker and the Venus Flytraps (with Sir Peter Crane)

9. Humankind – A Troubling Future? (with Lord Robert May)

10. The Evolving Body (with Randolph Nesse)

11. Darwin, Design and Christianity (with John Brooke)

12. From ‘Missing Link Mania’ to 150 Years of Popular Darwinism in Europe (with Peter Kjaergaard)

13. The Predatory Ape: Sex, Simians and Society in Nineteenth-Century Europe (with Gowan Dawson)

Patrick, Hyalite Canyon

Patrick, Hyalite Canyon, originally uploaded by darwinsbulldog.

Last Sunday we went for a short hike. This 2-mile hike in Hyalite Canyon south of Bozeman, Montana stretches from just before getting to the Window Rock Cabin to Hyalite Reservoir. The trail became so muddy that we couldn’t get as close to the water as we would have liked. Mosquitoes were out (my arms show it!) so maybe it’s a good thing we stayed away from the reservoir.

The flowers were amazing though, and Patrick was excited about all the mushrooms. I enjoyed seeing an American Dipper and getting some nice shots of butterflies.

That day some XTerra triathlon was going on, so we had to keep our eyes out for bikers and runners.

See more pictures here, and if you are able, please help me identify the flowers and fungi!

Cambridge Trip #4: Darwin in the Field Conference, Pt. 2

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Walking to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences:

Tennis Court Road, University of Cambridge

Tennis Court Road, University of Cambridge

This was the second day of the Darwin in the Field conference. That means I presented my paper, and it was received well.

Presenting my paper

Presenting my paper

Some suggestions and one small critique from David Kohn, but otherwise fine. Several of the historians were surprised to find out that the bulk of my paper was written during one of my undergraduate courses. Kohn also welcomed me to the community of scholars who look at Darwin’s botanical work. All in all, compliments and best wishes for future work. There are plans to publish the papers from this conference in a volume through the Geological Society of London. So more work to be done on Darwin and his seed dispersal experiments!

After the conference (and while some participants joined David Norman for a look at Darwin’s room at Christ’s College), some of us went for lunch at Origin8. A picture afterwards:

Brian Rosen, John van Wyhe, me, David Kohn, & Alistair Sponsel

Brian Rosen, John van Wyhe, me, David Kohn, & Alistair Sponsel

My Twitter updates from the presentations:

Darwin in the Field: A. Sponsel: Darwin actually had eureka moment w/ coral reef theory in Tahiti, not west coast of S. America#darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Barton (me!): JD Hooker disagreed w/ Darwin on seed dispersal in part b/c D did experiments @ home, not Kew #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Gowan Dawson: Brits more intriqued by Megatherium vs. dinosaurs b/c of stronger association w/ morality #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Gowan Dawson: “Darwin rather minimal in my story” Love it. #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Brian Rosen: Darwin’s own exhibit on coral reef specimens to be re-displayed at NHM-London #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: J. Hodge: it’s an anachronism to speak of Darwin and plate tectonics, further, don’t use ‘tectonics’ either#darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Phil Stone: “Nevermind Darwin’s finches (van Wyhe: no, no, mockingbirds), it’s Darwin’s foxes” #darwinfest

Following lunch, I went back to pick up my bag from the porter’s lodge at Downing College, and made my way to the bed and breakfast I stayed at the next two nights. I looked at my Cambridge map wrong, and went more than a mile out of my way, but that allowed me to see parts of the university I otherwise would not have. Some pictures:

Sidney Street Performer, Cambridge, England

Sidney Street Performer, Cambridge, England

Punting on The River Cam, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Punting on The River Cam, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Kettles Yard, Cambridge, England

Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, England

Lichen on wall along Northampton Street, University of Cambridge

Lichen on wall along Northampton Street, University of Cambridge

Another view of Kings College, University of Cambridge

Another view of King's College, University of Cambridge

Darwin Festival Fringe Programme, Grantchester Street, Cambridge, England

Darwin Festival Fringe Programme, Grantchester Street, Cambridge, England

The Granta (River Cam), Cambridge, England

The Granta (River Cam), Cambridge, England

When I got to the bed and breakfast, Richard Carter was already there.  We ventured out for some more exploring of Cambridge, which I will share in a later post.

You can view all the photos from my trip here, if you feel so inclined.

PREVIOUS: Cambridge Trip #3: Darwin in the Field ConferenceCambridge Trip #2: Finding My WayCambridge Trip #1: Traveling

PODCAST: John Parker on “The Roots of a Theory”

As part of hosting the art exhibit Endless Forms: Darwin, Natural Science & the Arts (opened June 16th), the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England is doing a series of podcasts. In this third podcast, John Parker discusses “The Roots of a Theory: How Plants Specimens Led a Young Darwin to Discovery”:

Plant specimens may seem an unlikely starting point for Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection – but, as Professor John Parker investigates in this podcast, the Cambridge botanist John Stevens Henslow proved a crucial mentor for the young naturalist. Find out how Darwin shipped his collections from the Beagle voyage back to Cambridge, and how these almost 200 year-old specimens can today give us a snapshot of long-extinct botanical life.

Download or listen online (with a slideshow) here.

Check here for previous posts about this art exhibit and the accompanying podcasts.

PODCAST: John van Wyhe on “Darwin in Cambridge”

As part of hosting the art exhibit Endless Forms: Darwin, Natural Science & the Arts (opening June 16th), the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England is doing a series of podcasts. In this second podcast, John van Wyhe (historian of science and director of The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online), discusses “Darwin in Cambridge: From Christ’s College to the Beagle”:

Dr. John van Wyhe, Director of Darwin Online, discusses Darwin’s student days at Christ’s College, Cambridge in the 1820s, and investigates the young naturalist’s developing eye for visual observation – as well as debunking a few persistent Darwin myths. Also featured: how Darwin’s rooms were restored and re-opened to the public.

Download or listen online (with a slideshow) here.


PODCAST: Jim Secord on “Darwin and the Ancient Earth”

VIDEO: Endless forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts

EXHIBIT: Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts

Evolution/Science Education Resources

The current issue of the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach (still freely available online) is devoted to transitional fossils. Genomicron posted the table of contents and Laelaps was upset the issue lacked an article on human evolution, but he reports that a forthcoming issue will tackle just that. The current issue also includes a review of Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause.

The Charles Darwin Trust, an organization that “uses the intellectual and cultural heritage of Darwin, through his approach to science and his work at Down House and in the immediate countryside, to inspire a deeper understanding of the natural world,” has a list of recent publications regarding Darwin and science education, reprinted here with links by yours truly:


Teaching Children to Tackle Big Questions by Sue Johnson. In Roots (Botanic Gardens Conservation International Education Review). Autumn 2008 [this whole issue is devoted to Darwin, and a PDF can be had here]

Teaching Science Outdoors by Sue Johnson. In School Science Review. December 2008 [this issue was likewise devoted to Darwin, and the table of contents is here]

Darwin-Inspired Science by Marcus Grace, Pam Hanley and Sue Johnson. In School Science Review. December 2008 [see above]

‘I thought I’d try the telephone’ – Darwin,his disciple, insects and earthworms by Randal Keynes. In the Journal of the Linnean Society Special Issue. January 2009 [the entire special issue on Darwin/Wallace is available as a PDF here]

Darwin-Inspired Learning in the School Grounds by Sue Johnson. In Primary Science Review. April 2009 [again, another Darwin issue, table of contents here]

Using Landscapes for Darwin-Inspired Learning outside the Classroom by Sue Johnson and Major Influences on Charles Darwin by Karen Goldie-Morrison. In Heritage Learning (English Heritage). Darwin edition April 2009 [a PDF of the entire issue is available here]

In preparation:

Darwin’s Ways of Working – an Opportunity for Education by Randal Keynes. In Journal of Biological Education. Darwin edition June 2009

Darwin’s Bees by Sue Johnson. In Second Nature (Natural History Museum Child Members’ Magazine) May 2009

The National Science Foundation-funded Earth Science Literacy Initiative has produced a concise resource, Earth Science Literacy Principles: The Big Ideas and Supporting Concepts of Earth Science, freely available as a PDF here.

Some blogs/websites/books that cover evolution/science education

Evolver Zone (site)

stand up for REAL science (blog)

The Art of Teaching Science (blog) / Science Teaching (site) / The Art of Teaching Science (book)


British Center for Science Education (blog)

Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits (book)

The Nature of Science in Science Education (site) from Ron Gray

ARTICLE: “Sympathetic Science: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and the Passions of Victorian Naturalists”

A new article by historian of science Jim Endersby about Darwin and Hooker in Victorian Studies:

Jim Endersby, “Sympathetic Science: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and the Passions of Victorian Naturalists” Victorian Studies 51 (2009): 299-320.

Here is the abstract:

This essay examines the complex tangle of emotional and scientific attachments that linked Darwin and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker. Analyzing their roles as husbands, fathers, and novel readers demonstrates that possessing and expressing sympathy was as important for Victorian naturalists as it was for Victorian husbands. Sympathy was a scientific skill that Victorian naturalists regarded as necessary to fully understand the living world; although sympathy became increasingly gendered as feminine over the course of the century, its importance to male naturalists requires us to rethink the ways gender roles were negotiated in Victorian Britain. Botany was, for men like Darwin and Hooker, an acceptably masculine pursuit that nevertheless allowed—and even required—them to be sensitive and sympathetic.

Plethora of Darwin

Orchids through Darwin’s Eyes, an exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, through April 26.

Darwin’s newly re-discovered student bills from Christ’s College, Cambridge, at Darwin Online

A review of the Darwin exhibit on the blog Entangled Bank.

Some music about scientists from Artichoke: 26 Scientists,Volume 1 (Anning-Malthus).

Watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos free on

Carl Zimmer’s Darwin Day lecture, “Darwin and Beyond,” is available on

The BBC’s Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, with David Attenborough, is now available on DVD.

Darwin’s Bulldogs, the Consortium for Evolutionary Studies at California State University, Fresno.

Case Western University’s Year of Darwin / Darwin and the Evolution of Industries and Firms by Hayagreeva Rao:

The March-April 2009 issue of Comptes Rendus Palevol is devoted to “Histoire évolutive de la Vie/Evolutionary history of Life.” View the TOC here.

The University of Birmingham will host a one-day Royal Institute of Philosophy conference on June 10, 2009 focusing on Darwin’s philosophy and the philosophy of biology more generally. More information here.

Darwin biographer/historian Jim Moore discusses Darwin and his own interest in Darwin in several videos from Open2.

Darwin stamps from Bulgaria, India, and a coin from Australia.

The February 2009 issue of The American Biology Teacher was devoted to Darwin an evolution. View the TOC here.

Several history of science-relates articles in the February 2009 issue of Taxon, including “Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778): his life, philosophy and science and its relationship to modern biology and medicine” and “Taxonomy was the foundation of Darwin’s evolution.”

The Journal of Biology‘s Special Darwin Issue, view the entire issue as a PDF here.

Darwin Across the Disciplines at the College of William and Mary:

As a reminder, you can add my Google Reader shared items feed to your feed reader to remain updated on Darwin/history of science content I browse…

BOOK REVIEW: Jim Endersby’s ‘Imperial Nature’

Imperial Nature by Jim Endersby

Imperial Nature by Jim Endersby

Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. By Jim Endersby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. xii + 429 pp. Acknowledgments, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index,. $35.00 (cloth).

In Pamela Smith’s The Body and the Artisan, we are asked to reconsider assumptions we hold about the Scientific Revolution: that it was a radical change in the acquiring of knowledge about the natural world, and that through texts and experimentation, natural philosophers in Italy and England led the way. For Smith, however, it was within a different place and among different actors that the “Scientific Revolution” actually got its start: artisans, not natural philosophers, in the Lower countries and Germany, not Italy and England, structured their desire to know about the natural world through physical experience, not books, to claim the superiority of embodied knowledge [1]. Those figures commonly associated with the Scientific Revolution, such as Francis Bacon, took up the artisans’ epistemological methodology.

This decentering of geographic origins and deemphasizing the role of iconic figures in the history of science has recently became a new analytical tool that has turned upside down long held notions of science as a progressive and strictly Western process. In Imperial Nature, historian of science Jim Endersby asks similar questions about Victorian science. Is it strictly something pouring out of Britain to the rest of the world? Is it run only by iconic men of science? Is the nineteenth century a period that is best understood only as split into pre- and post-Darwinian? Is the primary characteristic of Victorian science the push for professionalization within different disciplines? Endersby, probably more than any other historian working today, has an abiding fondness for Joseph Dalton Hooker. An online resource about Hooker that Endersby put together testifies to this claim (, as does the many articles he has published in a variety of journals. But Endersby does more than just inform others about Hooker. Imperial Nature, based on Endersby’s Ph.D. dissertation, analyzes Hooker’s career as a nineteenth-century botanist to reconsider common yet clichéd themes in thinking about Victorian science: “the reception of Darwinism, the consequences of empire, and the emergence of a scientific profession” (3).

Important to Endersby, as the subtitle stresses, is an understanding of the practices of nineteenth-century botany, the minutiae of everyday “doing.” This structures his narrative, as each chapter focuses on a particular practice: Traveling, Collecting, Corresponding, Seeing, Classifying, Settling, Publishing, Charting, Associating, and Governing. Some chapters are more engaging than others, particularly the first five and “Charting.” According to Endersby, “a focus on practice serves to overcome a long-standing historiographical tendency to divide the factors and influences that shape science into those which are internal to science (such as objectivity and careful experimentation) and those which lie outside (e.g., political, religious, and economic factors)” (313). Looking at practice – what naturalists and collectors were doing rather than focusing on their ideas that developed – helps us to understand a complexity of issues at work.

Reading through Imperial Nature, Endersby diverts Hooker’s links to Darwin to the conclusion. The impression given is that he does not want his Hooker book, truly a labour of love, to become a Darwin book, as 2008 and 2009 have been flooded with many new works, covering many disciplines beyond science, about Darwin. “I have deliberately chosen to keep Darwin in the background,” Endersby states in the conclusion (316). Darwin’s story is well known, while those of his contemporaries, Hooker included, are not. Yet the conclusion becomes the place for Endersby to bring Darwin in and analyze Hooker’s and other Victorian naturalists’ careers in relation to the “species question.” Endersby argues that it is not the question of whether or not species evolved that was central to Victorian science (we are all familiar with the pre-/post-Darwinian, pre-/post-Origin, pre-/post-1858 markers), but the question of whether or not species were stable in nature. For Hooker, to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was not to become a supporter of transmutation (Endersby argues that natural selection hardly changed the ways naturalists did their work), but to recognize the value of natural selection as a theoretical tool to the practice of botany. Natural selection gave Hooker a way to combat those aspiring botanists who tended to claim many species of plants where Hooker saw one of a few. This tension between “lumpers” and “splitters” in botanical classification helped to shape much more than Hooker’s eventual support for Darwin (Endersby also explores debates around whether or not Hooker actually accepted Darwin’s theory).

The lumper/splitter dichotomy was best explained by the imperial context of nineteenth-century botany. Colonial botanists collected plants and sent them back to metropolitan botanists, such as Hooker. Economic botany – understanding what plants are where and how best they can be utilized as natural resources – was important to imperialism. Endersby, however, stresses that colonial botanists – such as William Colenso and Ronald Gunn – were not simply passive servants of more powerful botanists in London and at Kew Gardens specifically. Colonial botanists held some autonomy, using their rare positions as skilled collectors in far away places to further their own agendas, whether aspiring to be better botanists or better gentlemen. A constant through Hooker’s career is dealing with colonial botanists and their willingness to agree (or not) to his methods. For Hooker, the colonial botanist should simply collect and send specimens back to the center, while not speculating on theoretical or philosophical matters, such as transmutation, naming, or distribution. To further their own goals, however, colonial botanists did speculate beyond collecting. They tended to be splitters: having more local knowledge of plant varieties in a given location, colonial botanists argued for more distinct species. They wanted to emphasize the diverse floras of the regions they represented while asserting the authority of their local knowledge and in situ experience (they often found European botanical books inadequate). Metropolitan naturalists, on the other hand, minimized the number of species for several reasons. Hooker, as did other metropolitan botanists, constructed herbariums, collections of dried plant specimens ordered by hierarchies of classification and managed within specially built cabinets in drawers with folders. Managing an herbarium became a daunting task as colonial botanists sent in this and that new species of orchid or liverwort. Keeping the number of species to a minimum not only maintained a metropolitan botanist’s authority over peripheral subordinates, but helped in maintaining the physical herbarium (in itself a microcosm of the botanical world). Hooker’s broad species concept – that many species across the globe are more generally varieties of a species with a broad geographic range – also required broader collections. Arguing against splitters was, in a way, related to the demand for more publicly funded scientific positions to build public funded collections.

Colonial botanists, Endersby persuasively argues, were not passive recipients of metropolitan scientific knowledge. “The result was not a one-way flow of plants or authority from periphery to center but a complex negotiation in which each side bartered its assets according to its interests and in the process defined who was central or peripheral and why” (110). Men like Hooker, Darwin, and Huxley depended on colonial botanists. Without their collections, whether botanical or zoological, these “men of science” could hardly have accomplished their work. In turn, their work, is not something to be considered as meaning the same thing in different regions. As Endersby effectively shows, the meanings of botanical illustrations and botanical classifications (think of Bruno Latour’s “immutable mobiles”) did not necessarily transfer from one location to another and hold their intended meanings.

Endersby’s time in the archives is apparent. He uses a wealth of primary documents – letters and papers mainly – that are representative of the “centers” and “peripheries” of his story: America, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. The subsections of many chapters in the book testify to his use of primary documents as well, as they are titled using quotes taken from these documents.

Imperial Nature, a reassessment of Victorian science seen through the career of a botanist bent on heightening the status of his discipline to be among geology and astronomy by claiming it “philosophical” and not an amateur pursuit (Hooker made his living from botany), will interest historians of Victorian science, biology (whether of botany, taxonomy, or evolution specifically), biogeography, imperialism, and even those who study the role of objects in history (chapter 2, “Collecting”). This is not a biographical treatment of Hooker (see Ray Desmond’s Joseph Dalton Hooker: Traveller and Plant Collector). Endersby has made a valuable contribution to several historical disciplines, showing how telling history entrenched in –isms (colonialism, professionalism, Darwinism) is detrimental to a proper understanding of Victorian science.

1. Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).