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Darwin Correspondence Project


Origin is 160; Darwin's 1875 letters now online

To mark the 160th anniversary of the publication of Origin of species, the full transcripts and footnotes of nearly 650 letters to and from Charles Darwin in 1875 are published online for the first time. You can read about Darwin's life in 1875 through his letters and see a full list of the letters.

Edward Emanuel Klein had assisted Darwin with his experiments on the digestive fluid of insectivorous plants. In 1875, Klein was a very controversial witness at the Royal Commission on vivisection. When asked about his use of anaesthetics in research, Klein expressed doubt about the validity of experiments conducted under such conditions, and even asserted that he had ‘no regard at all’ for the sufferings of animals when performing a painful experiment. Darwin also testified to the commission, and wrote of Klein's contribution: ‘I am astounded & disgusted ... but it is most painful as I liked the man.’  

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Drosera rotundiflora
Drosera rotundiflora, figures 4 & 5 from Insectivorous Plants
Image from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Digitised by Princeton Theological Seminary Library (

Insectivorous plants

Darwin’s work on insectivorous plants began by accident. While on holiday in the summer of 1860, staying with his wife’s relatives in Hartfield, Sussex, he went for long walks on the heathland and became curious about the large number of insects caught by the common sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). He reported to his friend Joseph Dalton Hooker: ‘I amused myself with a few observations on the insect-catching power of Drosera; & I must consult you some time whether my “twaddle” is worth communicating to Linnean Soc.’ Although he continued to think of his studies of carnivorous plants as a guilty pleasure, this encounter began a long-running research project that showed some of the connections between plants and animals.

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Hall of Biodiversity.jpg

Hall of Biodiversity, American Museum of Natural History
Hall of Biodiversity, American Museum of Natural History
Ryan Somma, Flickr

Biodiversity and its histories

The Darwin Correspondence Project was co-sponsor of Biodiversity and its Histories, which brought together scholars and researchers in ecology, politics, geography, anthropology, cultural history, and history and philosophy of science, to explore how aesthetic, economic, and moral value came to be attached to the diversity of life on earth.  The conference included a session on 'Darwin and evolutionary theory' involving past and present members of the Project. 

We are grateful to the speakers for permission to make their talks available here.

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Darwin and women: a selection of letters

A shorter version of this film is available on the Cambridge University Press video stream.


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Editing a Letter

Alison Pearn describes the difficult task of editing a letter with an unknown correspondent and no date.


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Lifecycle of a letter film

Darwin Correpondence Project staff discuss their work on the project and some of the challenges of finding, transcribing, translating and editing letters.


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Working in the Darwin archive

One of our editors Paul White talks about the Darwin archive at Cambridge University Library and piecing together a letter from multiple fragments in different places in the archive.


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'Re: Design' dramatisation

A dramatisation of the correspondence between Charles Darwin and Asa Gray was commissioned by the Darwin Project, and written by Cambridge playwright, Craig Baxter. It was developed for the stage by director Paul Bourne of the Menagerie Theatre Company, Cambridge, UK.

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Face of emotion

The Project hosted an event on “The Face of Emotion” as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas in October 2011. Darwin’s work on expression was discussed in the context of current research in artificial intelligence, autism, and neuroscience.

Video or audio is available for the short talks that were given:

Dr Paul White of the Darwin Project on Charles Darwin's work on emotions


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Darwins Cirripedia microscope slides
Darwins Cirripedia microscope slides
By kind permission of Cambridge University Museum of Zoology

Getting to know Darwin's science

One of the most exciting aspects of Charles Darwin’s correspondence is the opportunity it gives to researchers to ‘get to know’ Darwin as an individual. The letters not only reveal the scientific processes behind Darwin’s publications, they give insight into his personal life–the world of his family, his circle of friends and his community. This set of resource modules has been designed with the hopes of sharing some of the knowledge gained from our work on Darwin’s correspondence with university students.  

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