Cambridge University published on the Internet all the surviving correspondence of the scientist-evolutionist Charles Darwin. The searchable collection now includes more than 15,000 letters written between 1822 and 1882, from his voyage on the Beagle to On the Origin of Species and his end-of-life reflections.
The Internet Archive may be the only way to see the fuller picture of Darwin’s life. The university notes that the final print edition, due out in early 2023, does not include letters that arrived too late to make it into the physical copies. Many entries include footnotes and a bibliography.
This last batch of correspondence illustrates how attitudes toward evolution changed during the researcher’s lifetime.
By 1882, Darwin observed that natural selection was largely accepted as a fact among young scientists — a stark contrast to the hostility to On the Origin of Species upon its first publication in 1859.
The letters also illustrate how Darwin continued to experiment in the months before his death.
It’s not the same as holding physical letters. However, this is a classic demonstration of the value of the Internet for academics, not to mention everyone interested. As with other archival projects, here is an opportunity to experience history without going to the archive and wearing cotton gloves.