The Darwin Correspondence Project aims to annotate and transcribe Darwin’s extraordinarily revealing letters, making them freely available online. The material -which comprises more than 7,000 letters- includes not only the letters written by Darwin but also the ones written to him. All the letters are being transcribed from handwriting -though often hard to read- while explanatory footnotes, and extensive supporting materials for teachers and researchers are provided, notably on ecological science and the relations between science and religious belief. Dating of the material faces also difficulties that requires inquisitive approaches.
Through his seminal work, ‘On the Origin of Species’, published in 1859, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) showed that all organisms have evolved over time from common ancestors through the process of natural selection. He formulated his theories after returning from his five-year voyage to South America on the HMS Beagle, when he moved his family to Down House in Kent to escape the pressures of London life. He spent the next 40 years of his life operating from there: conducting scientific research, publishing the results of his experiments and writing letters.
Charles Darwin was indeed a prolific letter-writer, exchanging ideas with around 2000 correspondents across the globe. Since there were several mail deliveries a day, he was able to exchange multiple letters with one correspondent in a day a facility similar to today’s e-mail. Moreover, presenting both sides of a correspondence reveals how Darwin developed his theory on evolution through collaboration and cooperation with professional scientists, schoolteachers, colonial settlers, plant and animal breeders, missionaries and even clerics, and most importantly not in isolation. A wonderful proof that science builds up as a dialogue rather than a monologue.
Finally, all this material represents a most valuable testimony of what we know from 19th century science. For more information, please read Penny Bailey’s article and of course navigate through the site.