Happy 207th birthday, Charles Darwin! The Royal Society Library team is joining today’s global Darwin Day celebrations by unveiling a mini-exhibition of Darwin items from our collections, laid out in the display case next to our Reading Room.


A lithograph of Darwin from Vanity Fair, 1871.


The aim of Darwin Day, held each year on the anniversary of his birth, is to highlight the great contribution to science Darwin made and to reflect on his perpetual curiosity. Examining Darwin’s works in the Society’s collections, it’s striking just how myriad were his biological interests: carnivorous plants, earthworms, barnacles, plant movement, geology, the expression of emotions, and of course that little old problem of the origin of species.

Darwin had a long association with the Royal Society, beginning with his election to the Fellowship in 1839 following the great success of the publication of his journal from the voyage of HMS Beagle. In 1853 he received the Royal Medal “for his work entitled Geological Observations on Coral Reefs, Volcanic Islands, and on South America, and his work, Fossil Circhipeda of Great Britain, Section Lepadidae, Monograph of the Circhipeda”. In 1864 he was awarded the Copley Medal, the Society’s oldest and most distinguished award, “for his important researches in geology, zoology, and botanical physiology”.


Darwin’s Royal Society election certificate (ref. EC/1839/05)


You can pop in to the library to browse some of the great man’s works and borrow some of our related modern publications, from Randal Keynes’s ‘Annie’s box: Charles Darwin, his daughter and human evolution’, to David Dobbs’s ‘Reef madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz and the meaning of coral’.

There are a variety of other archives which may be of interest to researchers, including the minutes of the Evolution Committee appointed in the 1890s “for the purpose of conducting statistical inquiry into the variability of organisms”, and referees’ reports by Darwin on papers submitted to the Society for publication in its journals. In the 1950s the Royal Society also organised an expedition to examine the ecology of Southern Chile, forming part of its celebration of the Darwin-Wallace centenary.

You can also join the birthday party at home by listening to a presentation by Dr Alison Pearn examining Darwin’s contribution to the scientific method, which she gave at the Society in 2013.


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