Via the Smithsonian Libraries blog:
This first one is not an article, but a dissertation:
The ministry of chance: British Romanticism, Darwinian evolutionary theory & the aleatory
by Burkett, Andrew, Ph.D., Duke University, 2008, 319 pages; AAT 3346753
Abstract The Ministry of Chance proposes that Charles Darwin’s emergent understanding and depiction of organic variation must be seen in direct and significant continuity with Romantic representations of the aleatory – that is, those forms, processes, and phenomena that are understood as governed by the operations of chance. Romantic literature murmurs quietly but continuously about the unexpected, the accidental, and the desultory. Moreover, although the concept of the aleatory has been largely overlooked by Romanticist critique, Romantic-era texts including William Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1799, 1805, 1850) and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Queen Mab (1813), Mont Blanc (1817), and Prometheus Unbound (1820) meditate often on chance and, in so doing, reveal that Romantic literature is not only topically preoccupied with chance but that it is also structurally dependent on the aleatory. The transition from first- to second-generation Romanticism is characterized, I suggest, by a gradual change in the way in which these poets envision causality, and these two historical moments are each the topic of a subsequent chapter of this project. Furthermore, this study aligns Darwin’s conception and representation of evolution with this shift in Romanticism. Driven by complex plots encrypted in minute and variational organic forms, Darwinian evolutionary theory is similarly founded upon chance, both formally and conceptually. In the years leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859), Darwin becomes increasingly fascinated with the aleatory. Moving beyond his analyses of island populations, Darwin begins investigating the role of chance in the dispersion of continental floral populations as examined in his “Botanical Arithmetic” drafts, a set of largely unpublished documents held at the University of Cambridge’s “Charles Darwin Archive.” My project puts this Romantic poetry and Darwinian science into conversation by drawing upon the work of three critical and theoretical fields: Science Studies, the history and philosophy of biology, and Romantic criticism and theory. Such a cross-disciplinary approach to the aleatory in these narratives helps to illuminate the ways that British Romanticism and Darwinian evolutionary theory together “cohabit” a nineteenth- century paradigm change in reconceptions of chance and causality.
Abstract Through an investigation of the public, professional, and private life of the Darwinian disciple George John Romanes, this essay seeks a better understanding of the scientific motivations for defending the practice of vivisection at the height of the controversy in late Victorian Britain. Setting aside a historiography that has tended to focus on the arguments of antivivisectionists, it reconstructs the viewpoint of the scientific community through an examination of Romanes’s work to help orchestrate the defense of animal experimentation. By embedding his life in three complicatedly overlapping networks—the world of print, interpersonal communications among an increasingly professionalized body of scientific men, and the intimacies of private life—the essay uses Romanes as a lens with which to focus the physiological apprehension of the antivivisection movement. It is a story of reputation, self‐interest, and affection.
From Museum History Journal:
Abstract This paper examines the history of one man’s engagement with one of the most dominant intellectual ideas of the second half of the nineteenth century—evolution—and the way this was given physical form in the display of his collections up to 1884. It will also discuss the subsequent changes wrought to his work by his museum descendants at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. The collection does not contain any considerable number of unique specimens, and has been collected during upwards of twenty years, not for the purpose of surprising any one, either by the beauty or value of the objects exhibited, but solely with a view to instruction. For this purpose ordinary and typical specimens, rather than rare objects, have been selected and arranged in sequence, so as to trace, as far as practicable, the succession of ideas by which the minds of men in a primitive condition of culture have progressed from the simple to the complex, and from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.
From Evolution: Education and Outreach:
Abstract For the 1909 Darwin Centennial, the New York Academy of Sciences gave a large bronze bust of Charles Darwin to the American Museum of Natural History. Created by the well-known sculptor, William Couper, the bust was placed on its tall granite pedestal at the entrance at the newly designated exhibition hall, the Charles Darwin Hall of Invertebrate Zoology. Later that year, the American Museum ordered a bronze copy of the bust and presented it to Christ’s College, in Cambridge, England at the British Darwinian celebration. In 1935, Victor Von Hagen requested a plaster copy of the bust for a monument he was erecting on San Cristóbal in the Galapagos Islands to celebrate Darwin’s arrival in the Galapagos. During 1960, the American Museum of Natural History returned the original bronze bust to the New York Academy of Science, where it is now on display at its headquarters in New York City. To celebrate the Darwin bicentennial, the National Academy of Sciences recreated the bust in a computer-generated copy for display at their Washington, DC headquarters.
From Biology and Philosophy:
Abstract Frans de Waal’s view that empathy is at the basis of morality directly seems to build on Darwin, who considered sympathy as the crucial instinct. Yet when we look closer, their understanding of the central social instinct differs considerably. De Waal sees our deeply ingrained tendency to sympathize (or rather: empathize) with others as the good side of our morally dualistic nature. For Darwin, sympathizing was not the whole story of the “workings of sympathy“; the (selfish) need to receive sympathy played just as central a role in the complex roads from sympathy to morality. Darwin’s understanding of sympathy stems from Adam Smith, who argued that the presence of morally impure motives should not be a reason for cynicism about morality. I suggest that De Waal’s approach could benefit from a more thorough alignment with the analysis of the workings of sympathy in the work of Darwin and Adam Smith.
Ready for some beetle blogging? February is an appropriate month for The Dispersal of Darwin to host An Inordinate Fondness, for each February supporters of science and reason celebrate the birth of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) on the 12th. This year, he turned 202. Learn more about Darwin Day, and become a Friend of Charles Darwin, too. I specifically requested posts for AIF relating to Darwin and beetles or other figures in the history of science who worked on beetles. While that call for specific posts was largely unanswered, there are plenty of beetles on blogs to enjoy, and I’ll share some Darwin-related images from Flickr!
Dave Hubble’s ecology spot – Rhinoceros Beetles in Britain? Well, yes and no…: “Last night, over a vodka or two, a Russian friend of mine asked me whether we had Rhinoceros Beetles in Britain – we got there after chatting about how his small daughter was interested in bugs. My answer was along the lines of ‘no, but…’ and shows how the use of non-scientific (vernacular) names can be problematic i.e. it all depends what you mean by ‘rhinoceros beetle’.”
The Dispersal of Darwin – “Captured by C. Darwin, Esq”: “Darwin worked tirelessly in his home outside of London. Down House became a “country house” laboratory for his scientific endeavors, and he utilized many areas of the house and its grounds for his experiments. Yet while he worked away on his ‘one long argument,’ all he really wanted to do was get outside. To the entomologist John Lubbock, also Darwin’s neighbor, he wrote in 1854: ‘I do not know whether you care about Beetles, but for the chance I send this in a Bottle, which, I never remember having seen, though it is excessively rash to speak from a 26 year old remembrance. Whenever we meet you can tell me whether you know it.— … I feel like an old war-horse at the sound of the trumpet, when I read about the capturing of rare beetles— is not this a magnanimous simile for a decayed entomologist. It really almost makes me long to begin collecting again.'”
MObugs – Darkling Beetle: “Darkling beetles in the family Carabidae Tenebrionidaeare ( Thanks Ted for catching my faux pas) one of the most common beetles in the pet trade. These larger beetles are called Zophobas morio and the larvae are called Superworms. They are native to Central and South America, but made their way into the United States because of their large size and easy to rear nature.”
Beetles in the Bush – Featured Guest Photo – Dromica kolbei: “Although I have not collected this genus myself, I recognized it instantly as a member of such based on specimens and images I have seen. Carabidae of the World contains fine images of a number of species in this genus, of which Dromica kolbei (W. Horn, 1897) seems to be a pretty good match. However, more than 170 species are currently included in the genus, and while a modern revision is in progress (Schüle and Werner 2001; Schüle 2004, 2007), the bulk of the genus still remains to be treated. As a result, this really should be considered as just a provisional ID.”
Beetles in the Bush – Recent literature – The Coleopterists Bulletin: “I returned to the office this week after spending two weeks in Brazil to find the December 2010 of The Coleopterists Bulletin in my inbox. I don’t think there is another journal that I look forward to more eagerly than this one (with the possible exception of CICINDELA) – with each issue, I know that regardless of whether it contains any papers in my priority groups of interest (jewel beetles, longhorned beetles, and tiger beetles), it will nevertheless contain well-written articles presenting results of high-quality research on nothing but beetles – pure elytral ecstasy!”
Beetles in the Bush – Brazil Bugs #3 – Gorgulho Enorme!: “The second night at the hotel on the outskirts of Campinas (São Paulo, Brazil), I found this enormous weevil laying on the ground underneath some windows. It was dead but completely relaxed and in perfect shape. I wondered if it had been attracted to lights in the window the previous evening and flown there as its “last hurrah.” This beast of a weevil – measuring a good 30mm from the tip of the snout to the apex of the elytra – immediately brought to my mind giant palm weevils of the genus Rhynchophorus (Coleoptera: Curculionidae).”
MYRMECOS – Friday Beetle Blogging: Army Ant Associates: “Last year army ant guru Carl Rettenmeyer posthumously published a paper documenting the tremendous diversity of animals associated with Eciton burchellii. Over 500, in fact. Eciton burchellii has a larger known entourage than any other species of animal. Although Eciton‘s associates are the best documented, all army ant species have them. Ant colonies represent a tremendous concentration of resources, and animals that have figured out how to subvert the ants’ communication systems gain access to rich stores of food.”
Skepchick – Shellac: it’s a bug AND a feature!: “For some reason, both Cochineal and Lac scales are often reported as beetles. I’ve seen this mistake made on the Straight Dope, among other places. Scale insects don’t undergo complete metamorphosis as a beetle would, so they don’t have larvae and pupae. In fact, scales have their own special freaky system of growth and reproduction in which the females loose their legs and turn into a sort of tiny insect Jabba the Hutt, and even tinier males fertilize them and die.”
MYRMECOS – Friday Beetle Blogging: Agra: “Agra is a tree-dwelling predator found from Texas south to Argentina. It belongs to the family Carabidae, the ground beetles, which is unfortunate as most Agra are canopy species found nowhere near the ground… I photographed this handsome specimen at the Maquipucuna cloud forest reserve on Ecuador’s western Andean slopes.”
Ecotrope – How bark beetles are pitting the U.S. vs. Canada: “The bark-eating beetles have been ravaging forests in British Columbia – with tens of millions of forestland acres laid to waste. Scientists worry that global warming will continue to fuel beetle outbreaks by keeping winter temperatures just high enough to allow the beetles to survive the winter and reproduce, where in the past severe cold would have killed them off. At issue is how the BC government and timber industry have handled the damaged trees – and the not-so damaged ones – on public lands.” (See a related video from Oregon Public Broadcasting.)
LabSpaces – 2 new species of ‘leaping’ beetles discovered: “Only five species of these so-called ‘flea’ beetles, out of a global total of 60, had been found to date in New Caledonia, in the western Pacific. A three-year study has now enabled Spanish researchers to discover two new herbivorous beetles – Arsipoda geographica and Arsipoda rostrata. These new beetles hold a secret – they feed on plants that the scientists have still not found on the archipelago.”
Catalogue of Organisms – Ground Beetles for Today: “The subject of today’s post is a group of ground beetles (Carabidae) that has been treated in the past as the subfamily Zuphiinae, but seems to now be more commonly treated as a supertribe Zuphiitae within the Harpalinae. Whatever their appropriate formal name, the zuphiites are distinguished by a relatively long and thick scape (the first major segment of the antennae) and spination on the first stylomere of the female’s ovipositor; the clade is also supported by molecular data.”
Kele’s Science Blog – Solving the “adaptive recursion” in Jamaican click beetles (I) & The genetics and phenotypes of the Jamaican click beetle (Adaptive Recursion II): “In my last post I started a new short series on some biologists’ attempts to solve what they call an “adaptive recursion” or in other words, to know the full story of a trait from the bottom level of the gene to the top levels of ecology and differential fitness. Ecological descriptions frequently become “just-so stories” – claims of adaptations and how they arose but with little evidence. All levels of detail should be known before any such arguments can be proclaimed and this is exactly what Uwe Stolz, Jeffrey Feder, and Sebastian Velez, and others are attempting to do with the bioluminescence of Jamaican click beetles.”
Beetles in the Bush – Calm waters, frenzied beetles: “Lazy waters are the domain of whirligig beetles (family Gyrinidae). We encountered this ‘raft’ of beetles in a sheltered pool near the shore of the North Fork River while hiking the Ozark Trail last October. These frenzied little beetles live almost exclusively on the surface of the water, where they feed on organisms or scavenge debris in their famously and erratically conspicuous aggregations. Such behavior might make them seem vulnerable to predation, but in actuality the reverse is true. Beetles in rafts benefit from the increased number of eyes that can better scan the environment for potential threats than can individual beetles (Vulinec and Miller 1989), and the larger the raft the more efficiently this occurs.”
Beetles in the Bush – Diversity in Tiger Beetle Larval Burrows: “To the uninitiated, tiger beetle burrows might seem nothing more than a simple hole in the ground – anything could have made it. However, with experience one becomes able to distinguish tiger beetle larval burrows almost instantly from burrows made by other ground-burrowing organisms. The most common type of burrow is recognized by a combination of characters – almost perfectly circular except for a slight flattening on one side that gives the burrow a faint D-shape, and with the edge smoothly beveled. This is your classic tiger beetle burrow and, for most U.S. species of Cicindela and related genera, averages ~5-6mm in diameter for 3rd instar larvae (tiger beetle burrows are most often observed at 3rd instar, since it is this final instar in which the larva spends the majority of its time and the burrow becomes most noticable).”
LabSpaces – Ginger is key ingredient in recipe for conserving stag beetles: “The humble ginger root could be the key to conserving the UK’s largest and most spectacular terrestrial beetle – the stag beetle. Ecologists from Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of York have developed a series of new methods to monitor stag beetle numbers – including ginger lures to trap adult beetles and tiny microphones to detect sounds made by the larvae in their underground nests. Conservation efforts have been hampered until now because ecologists lacked a reliable way of monitoring stag beetle numbers.”
Beetles in the Bush – “All the better to see you with, my dear!”: “Cicindela formosa (the big sand tiger beetle) is a not uncommon species that occurs across much of North America east of the Rocky Mountains in deep, dry, open sand habitats. It is absent in Appalachia and much of the Interior Highlands, understandable given the rarity of deep sand habitats on these elevated landforms; however, its absence across much of the southeastern coastal plain as well as south and west Texas, despite the widespread presence of apparently suitable habitat, is not easily explained.”
Bug Eric -Merchant Grain Beetle: “Even entomologists are not immune to pest insects in their homes. We are just a little more fascinated than we are revolted. So, when I found a tiny beetle crawling on the bathroom counter of my Tucson apartment on October 20, 2010, I naturally wanted to know more about it. I thought I had a good idea of its identity, but I was wrong about the species.”
Fall to Climb – Forgotten Photo Friday: Otiorhynchus ligustici – Alfalfa Snout Beetle: “Native to Europe, accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1800′s, declared a pest in New York in 1933, and spread to to Canada in the mid 60′s. It has only been detected in a few towns in eastern Ontario. It is supremely pesty to alfalfa plants everywhere. But, although it is pesty, it is a VERY BIG AND AWESOMELY SCALY BEETLE! And, since it is a Curculionid, it looks like Gonzo. They all do. So I love it, just a little bit.”
What’s Bugging You? – A Rare Beetle New to Virginia: “My insect survey at the VCU Rice Center continues to reveal species that are rarely collected and/or newly recorded for the Commonwealth of Virginia. While sorting through dozens of trap samples containing thousands of insects, I recently discovered three specimens of a rarely collected false click beetle (Eucnemidae), Xylophilus crassicornis. This collection represents the first records for the genus and species in Virginia.”
cicindela – Ellipsoptera marginata: “One of the rather unique tiger beetles occurring in Virginia is Ellipsoptera marginata. I photographed this species back in late June of 2009 at Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve where I was assisting in a survey for Habroscelimorpha dorsalis dorsalis.”
The Atavism – Sunday Spinelessness – Vanuatu scarab beetles: “As promised, it’s time to add a few tropical invertebrates to the mix of more temperate bugs I usually talk about here. Let’s start by redressing a bit of an imbalance in these Sunday Spinelessness posts. Up until now I’ve only written two posts about beetles, which something of an under-representation since about a quarter of all described species are beetles. I see plenty of beetles around our garden and in my travels around Dunedin, but few of them are large enough, or sufficiently cooperative, for me to get decent photographs. I had no such problem in Vanuatu.”
The Atavism – Sunday Spinelessness – Hadda beetle: “Time for another tropical beetle from Vanuatu, and what could be more charming than a ladybird? Or its absurdy spikey larvae?”
Nature Closeups – Colorful Snout Beetle: “I really love the colors on this snout beetle. Check out the detail. The image is not quite as sharp as I’d like, but just look at all those little colorful scales.” & Reddish Tortoise Beetles: “There were quite a few of these reddish tortoise beetles feeding on this banana plant.” & Mating Snout Beetles: “These beetles are tiny. Each one is only a few millimeters long.”
Dave Hubble’s ecology spot – Cretaceous Crato creature!: “Last year, I was mooching around some fossil sites online and found some insects for sale. They were from an old collection and had originally been collected from the Crato Formation in Brazil. Many interesting specimens had already been sold, but among those remaining was a rather nice little beetle (according to the seller) around 12.5mm long excluding appendages. Such items are popular with collectors (including plenty with more money than me), but this one had been broken in half and neatly glued. So, still complete, but less popular with collectors and hence more affordable. Result! I bought it…”
The Sam Wells Bug Page – Phloeodes diabolicus: “Ironclad beetles are the tanks of the insect world. They are famous (or infamous) for walking away after being stepped on. There are even reports of species being run over by cars without apparent harm. To an entomologist, they are notorious for the challenge of getting an insect pin through their thick skin (cuticle). What usually happens is the first attempt bends the pin. The second attempt bruises the thumb and forefinger to the bone. And then with a combination of anger and grit (and with two hands gripping the shaft) the pin is forced through the reinforced exoskeleton. With luck it has gone through straight and without popping the legs off on the other side. Very often it doesn’t – as verified by any number of oddly pinned specimens stuck to the bottom of unit trays in the museums of the world.”
cicindela – Tetracha virginica: “This toothy specimen is Tetracha virginica, a fairly large species (16-25mm), widespread in the eastern United States. This species is a deep oily metallic green; largely active at night when it nimbly forages for prey and is often attracted to lights. During the day it can be found taking shelter under miscellaneous ground cover.”
And finally, for any biologists or naturalists out there who go in the field to collect beetles, take note. Here’s a list of naturalists (Wall of the Dead) who have lost their lives while investigating nature. Of particular interest:
Bečvář, Stanislav (1938-1997), Czech entomologist, shot dead, age 59, by soldiers in Laos while collecting beetles. Here’s a detailed account of the incident. His son of the same name, also an entomologist, was seriously wounded in the attack but survived and continues to do field work.
Brodsky, Otakar (19??- 1986), Czech coleopterist, died of a heart attack, age unknown, while collecting Cleridae beetles in a rainforest in Vietnam. He was reportedly seated under a tree with his collecting equipment in his hands, and his colleagues didn’t immediately realize he was dead.
And there you have it, the 13th edition of An Inordinate Fondness. The next edition of AIF will be hosted at Wandering Weeta some time mid-March. Send your submissions directly to the host there (email), or through the submission form.
From the Journal of the History of Collections:
Lyall I. Anderson and Mathew Lowe
Abstract The University Museum of Zoology (Cambridge) holds Charles Darwin’s collection of microscope slide dissections prepared during his studies of living barnacles. This collection was assembled through an extensive network of museum contacts and amateur collectors. We examine in detail the role of one of these collectors, Charles W. Peach, a coastguard in the Customs Service. Detailed study of the slide collection reveals an internal chronology of manufacture against which timelines of Peach and Darwin’s activities can be compared. Four distinct phases of slide fixative are recognized and subsequent alterations to Darwin’s original collection can be demonstrated. The internal chronology also reveals that Darwin dissected and mounted barnacles as he received material, rather than working systematically through taxonomic groups. Aside from Peach, other suppliers of barnacles included Samuel Stutchbury, Joseph Hooker and Robert Damon.
The Geological Society, London has published a volume of papers on the history of dinosaur (or phylogenetically-related) paleontology, Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective, edited by R.T.J. Moody, E. Buffetaut, D. Naish (blog), and D.M. Martill:
The discovery of dinosaurs and other large extinct ‘saurians’—a term under which the Victorians commonly lumped ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and their kin—makes exciting reading and has caught the attention of palaeontologists, historians of science and the general public alike. The papers in this collection go beyond the familiar tales about famous ‘fossil hunters’ and focus on relatively little-known episodes in the discovery and interpretation (from both a scientific and an artistic point of view) of dinosaurs and other inhabitants of the Mesozoic world. They cover a long time span, from the beginnings of ‘modern’ scientific palaeontology in the 1700s to the present, and deal with many parts of the world, from the Yorkshire coast to Central India, from Bavaria to the Sahara. The characters in these stories include professional palaeontologists and geologists (some of them well-known, others quite obscure), explorers, amateur fossil collectors, and artists, linked together by their interest in Mesozoic creatures.
And the papers:
Mark Evans, The roles played by museums, collections and collectors in the early history of reptile palaeontology [Abstract]
H. S. Torrens, William Perceval Hunter (1812–1878), forgotten English student of dinosaurs-to-be and of Wealden rocks [Abstract]
Leslie F. Noè, Jeff J. Liston and Sandra D. Chapman, ‘Old bones, dry subject’: the dinosaurs and pterosaur collected by Alfred Nicholson Leeds of Peterborough, England [Abstract]
Federico Fanti, Life and ideas of Giovanni Capellini (1833–1922): a palaeontological revolution in Italy [Abstract]
Richard T. J. Moody and Darren Naish, Alan Jack Charig (1927–1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research [Abstract]
Susan Turner, Cynthia V. Burek and Richard T. J. Moody, Forgotten women in an extinct saurian (man’s) world [Abstract]
Xabier Pereda Suberbiola, José-Ignacio Ruiz-Omeñaca, Nathalie Bardet, Laura Piñuela and José-Carlos García-Ramos, Wilhelm (Guillermo) Schulz and the earliest discoveries of dinosaurs and marine reptiles in Spain [Abstract]
Matthew T. Carrano, Jeffrey A. Wilson and Paul M. Barrett, The history of dinosaur collecting in central India, 1828–1947 [Abstract]
Eric Buffetaut, Spinosaurs before Stromer: early finds of spinosaurid dinosaurs and their interpretations [Abstract]
Martin A. Whyte, Mike Romano and Will Watts, Yorkshire dinosaurs: a history in two parts [Abstract]
A. J. Bowden, G. R. Tresise and W. Simkiss, Chirotherium, the Liverpool footprint hunters and their interpretation of the Middle Trias environment [Abstract]
Darren Naish, Pneumaticity, the early years: Wealden Supergroup dinosaurs and the hypothesis of saurischian pneumaticity [Abstract]
Peter Wellnhofer, A short history of research on Archaeopteryx and its relationship with dinosaurs [Abstract]
Kasper Lykke Hansen, A history of digit identification in the manus of theropods (including Aves) [Abstract]
Attila Osi, Edina Prondvai and Barnabás Géczy, The history of Late Jurassic pterosaurs housed in Hungarian collections and the revision of the holotype of Pterodactylus micronyx Meyer 1856 (a ‘Pester Exemplar’) [Abstract]
David M. Martill, The early history of pterosaur discovery in Great Britain [Abstract]
Mark P. Witton, Pteranodon and beyond: the history of giant pterosaurs from 1870 onwards [Abstract]
Jean Le Loeuff, Art and palaeontology in German-occupied France: Les Diplodocus by Mathurin Méheut (1943) [Abstract]
J. J. Liston, 2000 A.D. and the new ‘Flesh’: first to report the dinosaur renaissance in ‘moving’ pictures [Abstract]
Michael P. Taylor, Sauropod dinosaur research: a historical review [Abstract]
Last summer, when I was viewing an exhibit about Darwin and geology at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge, England, I did not think I would be reviewing it for the Journal of the History of Biology. But I have, and it is now up online:
Exhibit Review: Darwin the Geologist, The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England. Opened July 2009, Permanent. Curator: Francis Neary. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Opened in 1904 in memory of the geologist Adam Sedgwick, and containing the collections Sedgwick and John Woodward had previously accumulated, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences houses a vast collection of geological and paleontological specimens, including some collected by Darwin himself during the voyage of the HMS Beagle. The Sedgwick acts as a fitting locale, then, for an exhibit exploring Darwin and his geological work. Darwin the Geologist, a permanent exhibit opened in July 2009 to coincide with Cambridge’s Darwin anniversary celebrations, evolved from a temporary exhibit at the museum that had been titled Charles Darwin – Becoming a Geologist and had been on display from September 2008 to June 2009.
Darwin the Geologist tells the story of Darwin’s career as a geologist, displaying not only some of the 1,500 of Darwin’s actual specimens that the Sedgwick holds, but also books, geological tools, maps, and even a pistol carried by Darwin on the Beagle. The exhibit is an exploration of the development of Darwin’s ideas about the Earth and how they related to the development of his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin is more commonly labeled as a naturalist, or biologist, because of his work on evolution, but as Sandra Herbert has convincingly shown in Charles Darwin, Geologist (Cornell University Press, 2005), he was a self-proclaimed geologist and pursued his interests in geology in many ways from the Beagle voyage (1831–1836) leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. Geology, as an exhibit label attests, dominated Darwin’s early scientific career, and his ‘‘reputation as a scientist was built on his training as a geologist.’’
Situated among the beautiful and tall glass and wooden display cases, Darwin the Geologist fills one end of the museum’s two-winged gallery, replacing what used to be displays about the Holocene epoch. The exhibit displays are organized chronologically, beginning with Darwin’s childhood fascination with collecting and into his education at Edinburgh, where Darwin was introduced to geology, and Cambridge, where Darwin met John Stevens Henslow and gained collecting and field-work experience on a geological field excursion to Wales with Adam Sedgwick. More displays are devoted to the Beagle voyage, as this afforded Darwin more opportunities to practice geology and to think about the forces that created the landscapes he visited. We learn about a raised coastline at Sa˜o Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands and the numerous fossils Darwin discovered, including the famous Megatherium; of the geology of the Andes and the formation of igneous rocks at the Galapagos Islands; and the growth of coral reefs in the Pacific. We learn about Syms Covington, Darwin’s assistant during and after the voyage, and the many specialists to whom Darwin farmed out his geological specimens for identification: William Miller for minerals, Robert Brown for fossil plants, Alcide D’Orbigny for fossil shells, Richard Owen for fossil mammals, and William Clift for the fossil teeth of Megatherium. We are shown how Darwin became a member and later secretary of the Geological Society of London as a result of his geological work on the Beagle.
A label reflecting on Archibald Geikie’s centenary celebration lecture in Cambridge (1909) [Charles Darwin as Geologist: The Rede Lecture, Given at the Darwin Centennial Commemoration on 24 June 1909 (Cambridge Library Collection - Life Sciences)] about Darwin’s geology—‘‘Since 1909 Darwin’s theory of evolution has played an increasingly important role in our understanding of life on Earth, while his geological theories have been largely forgotten’’—segues between Darwin’s own life and work and labels showing how more recent scientists have used Darwin’s collections and ideas in their geological work. For example, geologist Lyall Anderson studies rocks from the Beagle collection to consider Darwin’s collecting practices. Darwin received some specimens as gifts from other geologists, such as Andrew Smith. Through studying the rocks themselves, Anderson has been able to conclude that Darwin included in his collection specimens he did not collect himself. Similar research by Sally Gibson has helped to understand Darwin’s geological route on the island of Santiago in the Galapagos. While the Beagle collection is of importance to scientists, the specimens can help to answer questions important to historians of science as well. Darwin the Geologist stresses this point. Anderson is quoted in a label: ‘‘From a personal point of view I think my biggest surprise was that Darwin didn’t collect everything himself. Maybe that’s a misconception that the Darwin Industry has kept running.’’ While Darwin is surely an important figure, lesser-known figures in the work brought Darwin his scientific fame.
Smaller displays between the larger glass cases emphasize other aspects of Darwin’s geology. From the influences of Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Lyell to the letter of introduction inviting Darwin to join the Beagle, these displays flesh out the story and provide contextual information. Several consider various practices associated with geology, such as how to collect appropriate specimens, the use of field notebooks, and the analysis and interpretation of specimens, and how this work for Darwin resulted in various publications. Some of the smaller displays discuss Darwin’s ‘‘scientific failure’’ in theorizing how the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy in Scotland were formed, how geology figured into On the Origin of Species, and how Darwin continued to study geological topics after the publication of Origin, most notably with earthworms and the formation of soil, the subject of his last book. Also included in the exhibit are a recreation of Darwin’s cabin on the Beagle and an interactive globe showing the places where Darwin collected particular specimens. A touchscreen allows visitors to go behind the scenes of the exhibit, which is essentially a collection of the posts from the blog that accompanies Darwin the Geologist and is accessible at http://darwinthegeologist.org/.
The exhibit does a fine job of placing Darwin’s work in the context of geological questions at the time. It does not address the ‘‘Genesis and geology’’ dispute in the nineteenth century beyond one label stating that ‘‘Heated debate and controversy over science and religion captured the public imagination,’’ nor is there a label stressing the importance of correspondence to scientific practice. These minor quibbles aside, Darwin the Geologist offers a wealth of interesting material in both the objects on display and the accompanying labels, and it does it in a rather small space. It is a well-organized exhibit, and includes a wonderful artistic tribute to Darwin. While a life-size bronze of a young Darwin, by Cambridge alum and zoologist-turned-artist Anthony Smith, now adorns a garden in Christ’s College at Cambridge, a bronze bust also by Smith oversees Darwin the Geologist as if to suggest that Darwin himself is either the epitome of humankind (for Darwin is situated at the most recent end of the geological and paleontological timescale that is the Sedgwick Museum) or a typical specimen of humankind. The former runs the risk of claims of hagiography. The latter is more likely, as the exhibit suggests that scientific discovery follows from curiosity, and Darwin the Geologist surely expresses throughout to its visitors the act of scientific discovery. If nothing else, the statues help to emphasize that for much of the work that made Darwin a reputable scientist, he was an energetic young man eager to explore the world around him, not always the long-bearded sage of Downe.
Michael D. Barton
Montana State University
The photos I took of the exhibit can be seen here.