Charles Darwin’s private library has been completely rebuilt and is available on the Internet for the first time, coinciding with the naturalist’s 215th birthday. The 300-page catalog contains 7,400 titles with a total of 13,000 volumes including books, writings and magazines, which are accessible to everyone without leaving home.
Charles Darwin, arguably the most influential man of science in history, amassed a vast personal library throughout his working life. Until now, 85% of its content was unknown or unpublished.
This year, coinciding with the naturalist’s 215th birthday, the academic project “The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online”, directed by Dr. John van Wyhefrom the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS), has published a on-line catalogue 300-page book detailing Darwin’s entire personal library.
This library, perfectly described by its creator, it consists of 7,400 titles distributed in 13,000 volumes and items, including books, pamphlets and magazines. Previous lists only covered 15% of their entire collection.
In addition, Darwin’s library has been virtually reassembled, with 9,300 links to copies of the works available for free online.
According to Explain Dr. van Wyhe: “This unprecedented view of Darwin’s entire library allows us to appreciate more than ever that he was not an isolated figure working alone, but an expert of his time drawing on sophisticated science, studies and other knowledge of thousands of people. Indeed, the size and variety of the works in the library manifest the extraordinary extent of Darwin’s research into the work of others.”
Darwin’s library was located in his study, where he worked and wrote his scientific publications.
The catalog published Online details titles that cover a wide range of topics. Most of them are scientific works, particularly in the areas of biology and geology.
Others deal with agriculture, animal husbandry, their behavior and their distribution areas, as well as philosophy, religion and other topics that interested Darwin.
Even in Spanish
More than half of the works are in English, while the rest are in languages such as German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Danish.
Among its items is a German newspaper containing the first known photograph of bacteria. Other documents in the library have titles such as “The Anatomy of a Four-Legged Chicken,” “Epileptic Guinea Pigs” and “The Hated Colorado Grasshopper.”
To compile 85 percent of Darwin’s favorite works, a complex research process that lasted 18 years was necessary.
One of the most important sources of information for the “Darwin Online” project was a 426-page handwritten catalog from 1875 that listed several works from Darwin’s collection. In this alone, van Wyhe and his colleagues found 440 previously unknown titles that must have once been in the library.
Also useful in reconstructing Darwin’s reading material were the personal notebooks and letters that the researcher wrote about his reading experiences, but also the diaries of his wife Emma and a catalog of books that was delivered to the University of Cambridge in 1908. Works from Darwin’s collection now held in university libraries and private collections, as well as those that have been sold at auction over the past 130 years, were also consulted.
This project provides a fascinating insight into the curious and eclectic mind of Charles Darwin, as well as his deep commitment to research and exploration of human knowledge.
Now, thanks to online availability, we can all immerse ourselves in the richness of his library and explore the ideas that influenced his revolutionary theory of evolution.