This international collaborative research project ran from 2010 to 2013 and explored the wide-ranging and controversial work of Darwin and his contemporaries in developing an evolutionary theory of human nature in the period 1870 to 1873. These were the crucial years that saw the publication of Darwin’s long anticipated books, Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), and Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).
Letters played a central role in Darwin’s research, as he expanded his network of correspondents to gather information on human behaviour and sexual selection across the globe. Letters were also a vital medium of debate, as Darwin discussed the implications of his theory for the origins of language and emotional expression, the operation of the moral sense, and the progress of human civilization with scientists, clergymen, philosophers, and other members of the reading public.
The web resources created include letter sets on the themes of ethics and progress aimed at university students, and of language and emotion for the general reader. Key letters are arranged with explanatory and visual material, and suggestions for further reading to aide in university course work or independent study. Other aspects of Darwin’s research on human nature have received special attention: his observations of children, his global survey of emotional expression, and his experiment on emotional recognition.
The project’s research associate Dr Sophie Defrance and other staff presented their findings at international conferences. We hosted a major international conference on Darwin and Human Nature, inviting scholars in history, history of science, philosophy, English literature, and gender studies to reflect on the legacy of Darwinian frameworks of the ‘human’ today. The project also co-sponsored conferences on Digital Humanities and John Lubbock.
A series of exhibitions and outreach events were organised, providing forums for the interface of the project’s historical work with current science, philosophy, and the arts. These events included “The Face of Emotion” (Cambridge Festival of Ideas, 2011), “Acts of Kindness” (Cambridge Science Festival, 2012), and the Human Nature Film Series (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, 2012). Podcasts, audio recordings, and a virtual exhibition were created from these events.
Thanks to all who worked on this project: Dr Sophie Defrance and all the members of the Darwin Correspondence Project team in Cambridge; and Dr Geoff Belknap, Katie Ericksen Baca, Meg Formato, Myrna Perez, Dr Alistair Sponsel, Jenna Tonn, and Rebecca Woods at Harvard.