“Get to know Darwin” – a student’s-eye view

Reading Darwin’s correspondence is the best way to meet him, both as a scientist and as an individual. We have just launched the first modules in a new set of resources to help students – in and out of formal education – “get to know Darwin”.  The materials are arranged into eleven thematic modules, with six available now and the remaining five to come online shortly. Topics released include Darwin’s observation of slave-making ants and its contribution to our understanding of instinct and the evolution of the mind, his experiments with seeds to test ideas in biogeography, his work on barnacles, and his use of pigeons to explore variation; others, such as his interest in floral dimorphism, and his experiments on earthworms, are to come. Each module has a carefully selected set of letters, discussion questions, excerpts from Darwin’s publications, and suggested activities, along with introductions to both the material and the concepts. The modules can be used in any university discipline engaging with history of science – history, gender studies, or the biology lab. All the material is freely available for use in education. Course providers are free to use or adapt a single module, or include all eleven.  The modules are also available for anyone to use anywhere in the world for private study.

These resources have been compiled as part of a pilot collaboration with the “Getting to Know Darwin” seminar course at Harvard College.  The concept was developed by research assistants from the Harvard office of the Darwin Correspondence Project and a teaching team led by Ned Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard. The partnership began last autumn and continues through this year. Although we have designed these modules to stand on their own, we have included sample activities from the course at Harvard to provide suggestions and inspiration for all course settings.   We’ll be writing more about our experiences teaching the course this year as we release further modules.

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