The ‘Darwin behind the scenes’ exhibit goes virtual!

Men of the Day, No. 33. “Natural Selection.”, Vanity Fair (30th September, 1871)


In the summer of 2011, the Darwin Correspondence Project put together an exhibit based around Charles Darwin’s personal letters. The aim was to use his correspondence to understand better the ways he worked and thought. Was Darwin a solitary thinker? Who and what influenced his work?


We decided to focus on the letters exchanged around the writing and publication of two of Darwin’s major works, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Because Darwin often thought about subjects for years before he published on a topic, this means that the correspondence we used spanned several decades, sometimes dating back to his youth or to the early years of his marriage.


William Swale to Charles Darwin (13th July, 1858)

The correspondence and the documents that we have selected give a glimpse of the man as well of the scientist – the writer who was worrying with his publishers, the father or husband who enrolled his family in scientific collecting and experimentation, the friend who became interested in the latest technologies of the day.


For practical reasons, the exhibition had to be limited to Cambridge University Library readers, and to those who participated in the Open Cambridge Festival. Going online is now allowing us to offer some of the visual and intellectual riches of Cambridge University’s collections to all.


Visit the online exhibit here to discover Charles Darwin and his life in a new light.


The exhibit was supported by the Parasol Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, National Science Foundation, and Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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