My Darwin talk at OHSU, April 4th

Guest Lecture

Perhaps I should let folks here know that I will be giving a talk at the Oregon Health & Sciences University here in Portland on Wednesday, April 4th, at 12:30pm in the Old Library Auditorium. It will be for a reception to the small exhibit now on display in the OHSU Library, Rewriting the Book of Nature (see my post here).

Darwin Exhibit

My talk will be “Charles Darwin: Myth vs. History,” an overview of myths about Darwin and corrections of them. I will talk about both what I think are unintentionally created myths (events or characteristics that find their way into popular history, science textbooks, etc.) and those that are indeed intentional, and meant to smeer the reputation of a historical character (mainly, creationist misuse of history).

Reception at 12:00, my talk at 12:30, free and open to the public!

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“Rewriting the Book of Nature” Darwin exhibit at OHSU Library

The National Library of Medicine’s small panel exhibit about Darwin is now open at the library of the Oregon Health & Sciences University, here in Portland, until April 21st. Four panels of images and text constitute Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin and the Rise of Evolutionary Theory (brochure). Patrick and I went up to OHSU on Tuesday to take a look, but also to meet with the archivist there to discuss a talk I am going to give on April 4th at a noon reception for the exhibit – my first invited talk! I’ll share more details later about the talk, but for now here are pictures of the exhibit:

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

"Rewriting the Book of Nature" (Darwin exhibit) at OHSU Library

Darwin’s Virtual Library

The Biodiversity Heritage Library has launched Darwin’s Virtual Library:

Charles Darwin’s Library is a digital edition and virtual reconstruction of the surviving books owned by Charles Darwin. In 1908, Charles Darwin’s son Francis transferred what he called the ‘Darwin Library’ to the Botany School at Cambridge University under the care and control of the Professor of Botany, A. C. Seward. As Francis put it, ‘The library of Charles Darwin has now found a permanent home in his University…’ Of course the library of Charles Darwin is more than the collection of the works he owned at his death. As Francis already appreciated in 1908, ‘The chief interest of the Darwin books lies in the pencil notes scribbled on their pages, or written on scraps of paper and pinned to the last page.’ Darwin did read both systematically and with great intensity. He read to gather evidence, to explore and define the research possibilities of his evolutionary ideas, and to gauge reactions to his own publications. In fact, reading was a major tool in Darwin’s scientific practice. Thus what our digital reconstruction of the Darwin Library delivers is the ability to retrace and reduplicate Darwin’s reading of a wealth of materials.

The portion of the Darwin Library now published at the Biodiversity Heritage Library constitutes Phase 1 of a collaborative project to digitise the Darwin Library works and to provide transcriptions of Darwin’s marginalia side by side with the pages he marked. Phase 1 presents images and marginalia for 330 books, represents 22% of the total 1480 Darwin Library book titles. But, more significantly, these 330 titles represent 44% of the 743 Darwin books that bear his annotations or marks. The latter comprise 28951 annotated and marked book pages and 1624 attached note slips. Plans for further phases to complete digital publication of the remainder of the Darwin Library are now under consideration.

Much more about the collection and its history here.

Hello there!

Sorry blogging has been so light as of late. Just a few things:

My wife started a new job a month ago, as a librarian in the city of Canby about 25 minutes south of Portland. So I am daddy during the week and have some part-time work on the weekends.

Excited for the OMSI Science Pub at the Bagdad Theater tonight. It’s with Rebecca Skloot and she’ll be discussing her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Hopefully Patrick behaves…

Speaking of my son, he turned 5 on March 27th. He’s getting big! We had a fabulous nature-themed party for him at Tryon Creek State Park:

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

He’ll be starting kindergarten in the fall. The proud parents:

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

The freethought conference (pictures) here in Portland at the end of March was great, and it was nice to meet PZ Myers:

2011 Northwest Freethought Conference, Portland State University

I seem to be blogging more at my other blog, Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas, and Patrick and I spent spring break week outside every day

Molalla River State Park, Canby, OR

Next month I will be giving a talk about Darwin and creationist quote-mining for the Secular Humanists of East Portland/CFI (an extended version of what I did for Science Online 2011).

And there are not too may days until the next installment of the history of science blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders.

Follow me on Twitter (@darwinsbulldog) and Facebook for constant linkage of Darwin items of interest…

New Darwin letter found

From Harvard Gazette:

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“I was a little excited, but a bit skeptical that it would actually be new,” said Myrna Perez, who, alongside lecturer Alistair Sponsel stumbled across a previously unknown letter from Charles Darwin to his colleague and later nemesis, zoologist Richard Owen.

Across 160 years, Darwin speaks

Discovery of letter sheds light on murky part of the naturalist’s life

While in Houghton Library, sorting through stacks of old manuscripts and letters from the great naturalist Charles Darwin, history of science graduate student Myrna Perez and lecturer Alistair Sponsel stumbled across something extraordinary: a previously unknown letter from Darwin to his colleague and later nemesis, zoologist Richard Owen.

“We initially went [to Houghton] to confirm that a few letters we thought were here at Harvard were actually here,” said Sponsel, who, like Perez, is an affiliate of the Darwin Correspondence Project, whose American editorial office is at Harvard.

“We were not really looking for a new letter,” Perez said. “One of the editors … noticed there were some discrepancies between the letters that the project believed to be at Harvard, and what she could tell from the Harvard catalogs themselves.”

After cross-checking the British lists and the Harvard catalog, Perez came across a letter that couldn’t be found on any of the lists.

“I was a little excited, but a bit skeptical that it would actually be new,” she said. “And then when I got it, I spent a long time looking through our project databases, had Alistair check what I did, and we finally concluded that it was a letter unknown to the project.”

According to Sponsel, Darwin wrote the undated letter in April 1848, long before his landmark book “On the Origin of Species” was published. Darwin would have been 39 years old, but he was already famous as a voyager and author. Owen had previously contributed to Darwin’s book “The Zoology of the Voyage of the HMS Beagle.”

“We can tell with fairly good confidence which Sunday in 1848 he wrote this,” Sponsel said. “The two [Owen and Darwin] were working on a publication for the British Navy, a handbook for people on voyages to teach them how to make scientific observations.”

Perez added, “The letter, and the entire exchange, gives a perspective on the collaborative process of their work and the kind of instructions that Darwin felt were appropriate for new naturalists on naval expeditions. He makes some interesting comments in the letter, saying that he would have loved to have had this kind of manual on his own Beagle voyage.”

“Unknown letters don’t come up very often, maybe about 10 a year,” said Darwin scholar Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science and Harvard College Professor. “This letter is unusual in that it is a letter from early in Darwin’s life, before ‘On the Origin of Species’ was written, and with a particular individual with whom he became almost sworn enemies.”

It was “On the Origin of Species” that changed Darwin and Owen’s relationship. After its publication, Owen wrote a cruel review of the book, and the relationship disintegrated.

The discovery comes as part of Perez and Sponsel’s work for the Darwin Correspondence Project, an endeavor begun in the mid-1970s by American scholar Frederick Burkhardt and now based at the University of Cambridge. Participants there and at Harvard are dedicated to cataloging, editing, and publishing Darwin’s correspondence from throughout his life. To date, Browne said, the project has cataloged about 15,000 letters from “unexpected people in all sorts of categories, including women scientists and African colonial administrators.”

“Historians have found principally through this large publishing project that correspondence is a significant element of what scientists used to do,” Browne said. “It turns out that someone like Darwin was writing letters as a way of collecting information. It was part of his scientific method.”

Darwin Statue on Suzzallo Library at University of Washington, Seattle

In 1924, sculptor Allan Clark created 18 statues for the exterior of the Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington in Seattle – Moses, Pasteur, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Justinian, Newton, da Vinci, Galileo, Goethe, Herodotus, Adam Smith, Homer, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Darwin, and Grotius . Well, we’re in Seattle right now (for a giant booksale for something we do; you can support us by ordering books through our Amazon page at that link). We’ve been on the UW campus before, and even looked at the statues, but I hadn’t known there was one of Darwin. I shared someone else’s picture of it before, but since our hotel is on the perimeter of the campus, Patrick and I decided to head over to the library ourselves to check out the statue. Here’s the library in totality:

Fifteen of the statues grace the front of the building, while one is just on the left side, and two just on the right, those being obscured by trees. One of those two is Darwin (maybe that’s why I didn’t see it last time, kind of hard to see), holding what is presumably On the Origin of Species: