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Darwin Correspondence Project

Darwin's scientific network

Darwin used letter-writing to establish networks of collectors, informers, and what was in effect a virtual thinktank. His correspondents, many of whom he never met, were his research assistants, his critics and his scientific colleagues.   The other side of the coin is that they used him as a patron and a source of authority. And as a result, his correspondence allows us not only to study his scientific methods and the development of his ideas but to look much more widely at the practice of science by a very broad range of people, and to look at them both individually and collectively.  


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Lydia Ernestine Becker
Lydia Ernestine Becker, The Graphic, Jan 1874, p44
CUL NPR.c.53
Cambridge University Library

Lydia Becker

Becker was a leading member of the suffrage movement, perhaps best known for publishing the Women’s Suffrage Journal. She was also a successful biologist, astronomer and botanist and, between 1863 and 1877, an occasional correspondent of Charles Darwin.

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Thomas Rivers
http://www.rhso.co.uk/history.php
Thomas Rivers, 1873
Courtesy of the Rivers Heritage Site and Orchard

Thomas Rivers

Rivers and Darwin exchanged around 30 letters, most in 1863 when Darwin was hard at work on the manuscript of Variation of plants and animals under domestication, the lengthy and detailed sequel to Origin of species. Rivers, an experienced plant breeder and hybridist, supplied Darwin with detailed information about bud variation in fruit trees, strawberries, roses, and laburnum, and the effects of grafts upon root stock.

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Titus Coan
https://archive.org/details/tituscoanmemoria01coan
Titus Coan
Image from archive.org. Digitised by The Library of Congress

Titus Coan

In 1874, when Darwin was preparing the second edition of Descent of Man, he received letters from all over the world in reply to his queries about human behaviour; one in particular would have stirred up unexpected memories of his own time among the native peoples of South AmericaTitus Munson Coan, an American doctor, passed on a message to Darwin from his father, also called Titus Coan, who, as a young missionary, had spent a few hazardous weeks among the indigenous peoples of Patagonia on the north shore of the Magellan Strait. Darwin’s queries about the practice of infanticide reached Coan in Hawaii where he and his wife had been running a mission station since 1835.  Through his son, he told Darwin that although infanticide was sometimes practised, it was not prevalent in Hawaii, and moreover didn’t favour the survival of one sex over the other as Darwin had suspected it might.

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William Winwood Reade
William Winwood Reade
CUL Misc.7.91.18
Cambridge University Library

William Winwood Reade

On 19 May 1868, an African explorer and unsuccessful novelist, William Winwoode Reade (1838–1875) offered to help Darwin, and started a correspondence and, arguably, a collaboration, that would last until Reade's death.

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Charles Harrison Blackley
http://enriqueta.man.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/2os6gx
Charles Harrison Blackley
MMC/2/BlackleyC/1/29
Copyright of The University of Manchester

Charles Harrison Blackley

You may not have heard of Charles Harrison Blackley (1820–1900), but if you are one of the 15 million people in the UK who suffer from hay fever, you are indebted to him. For it was he who identified pollen as the cause of the allergy. Darwin was fascinated by Blackley’s experiments testing whether pollen could be carried large distances in the upper regions of the atmosphere, experiments that had been inspired by Darwin’s discussion of collecting atmospheric dust at Porto Praya in his Journal of researches (2nd edition, p. 5).

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Mary Treat
http://www.vinelandhistory1864.org/
Mary Treat
Courtesy of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society

Mary Treat

Mary Treat was a naturalist from New Jersey who made significant contributions to the fields of entomolgy and botany. Over the period 1871–1876, she exchanged fifteen letters with Darwin - more than any other woman naturalist.

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