(As I mentioned earlier, under Simone de Beauvoir, there are a number of significant commemorations coming up. This one is interesting to us, partly because Rod is a microbiologist and partly because we’ve been to the Galapagos a number of times).
CHARLES DARWIN’S BICENTENARY
February 12, 1809–April 19, 1882
2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his “Origin of the Species”(November 24, 1859), so it’s a good time to examine the life of this famous man. The year will be one of commemorations around the world, in honor of his work and its influence on subsequent scientific, philosophical and religious thinking. The fact that so many events are planned emphasizes the impact of his legacy on the 21st century.
Many books have been written about Darwin and his life, but in view of the special commemoration year, what better way to try and understand this complex man than through an exhibition? The Darwin Exhibition is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with a number of other museums: Museum of Science, Boston; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; and Natural History Museum, London.
This special exhibition has traveled to various cities in USA and Europe (see partial list at the end) and is in London from November 14, 2008, in time for the commemoration year. I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition when it was at Chicago’s Field Museum. It was highly recommended and thought-provoking, providing an in-depth look at Darwin’s life every bit as good as reading a biography.
Whatever one’s personal beliefs about the emotional and controversial issue of evolution, this exhibit leaves you feeling very sympathetic towards Darwin and his theory, as you realize how difficult it was for him to publish it.
The exhibition puts the spotlight on the life of Charles Darwin, the 19th century naturalist who formulated the theory of evolution that linked species through a process of natural selection. This exhibition gives a good understanding of this complex man, his work and writings, and his family life. It claims to be the most in-depth exhibition on Darwin ever presented, and it certainly was extensive with many original items from his life, such as his special geological hammer, his magnifying glass (no microscopes in those days!), part of his beetle collection, many pages from his diaries, many of his letters.
The displays are presented chronologically, and as I watched the movie about his life, then walked slowly through the rooms, reading, looking at the displays and listening to the excellent audio guide I began to get a sense of this remarkable man, who changed basic thinking about biological sciences. His theory of the origin of the species and of evolution through natural selection (commonly referred to as survival of the fittest for any particular environment) soon became the cornerstone of biology.
The controversy between ‘Evolution’ and ‘Creation’ has raged very strongly at times in the 150 years since Darwin’s book was published, and recently another contender, ‘Intelligent Design’, has entered the fray. People, groups, and organizations have become very vocal in defense of the concept they espouse, at times even instigating legal challenges. It’s an emotional issue still today. The Field Museum apparently supports Evolution, but in this Darwin exhibit the museum was very careful to also present the other ideas and what merits they might have.
This exhibit is very well thought out and carefully presented, with many hands-on exhibits and displays that will hopefully engage all, but especially young people, and get them thinking rationally about this large issue, or “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, as some put it.
This special exhibition was at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, for most of 2006; at the Field Museum, Chicago, through January 1, 2008, then at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto March 8-August 4, 2008.
*From November 14, 2008 – April 19 2009, the Natural History Museum in London will host the exhibition, titled “Darwin Big Idea. Big Exhibition”. More information at www.nhm.ac.uk
Other notable celebrations are:
*July 5-10, 2009 at the University of Cambridge, where Darwin was a student at Christ College from 1827 (www.darwin2009.cam.ac.uk )
*The British Council is sponsoring Darwin Now, an initiative to explore Darwin’s legacy through many different events (www.britishcouncil.org/science-darwin.htm )
*University College of London (UCL) Library Services has an exhibition in the Main Library 13 October, 2008 through 31 January, 2009. Charles Darwin lived in a house on the site now occupied by UCL’s Darwin Building from 1839-1842, just over 2 years after his return from the voyage on the HMS Beagle.