New Online: The American Museum of Natural History Officially Unveils Darwin Manuscripts Project and DARBASE

Posted on February 12, 2012 by


From the American Museum of Natural History:

In celebration of Darwin Day, the American Museum of Natural History is officially unveiling the first phase of the Darwin Manuscripts Project—the most comprehensive catalog of Charles Darwin’s scientific manuscripts ever compiled. The project is an ambitious online tool that traces the intellectual development of the famed naturalist and his groundbreaking theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin Day is commemorated annually around the world on February 12—Darwin’s birthday.

The database at the project’s core—DARBASE (Darwin Union Manuscripts Catalogue)—includes some 45,000 Darwin documents, including writing from Darwin’s time aboard the HMS Beagle, early drafts of On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and the Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, as well as his notebooks and botanical books.

Developed in close collaboration with Cambridge University Library, whose physical collection is the foundation of the new database, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, represented by the Natural History Museum in London, this new tool will also include holdings from all other library-based Darwin collections globally. Already, the database includes 15,125 high-resolution digital images of the original manuscript pages with annotated transcriptions. In addition, more than 7,400 manuscript pages have been transcribed and are presented in an accessible format.

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Particularly innovative are the notes featured on many of the manuscript pages, which make Darwin’s writing accessible to casual readers and scholars alike. For example, scholars can see a transcription of Darwin’s famous first attempt, in 1842, to sketch out an essay about evolution that eventually became On the Origin of Species. It is possible to follow every crossed-out line, every edited sentence, and every transposed block of text, in essence looking over Darwin’s shoulder as he composed his revolutionary first draft of evolutionary history. Alternatively, the site allows more casual readers to view the complete transcription without edits or annotations. This functionality offers clear, highly-readable manuscripts without sacrificing drafts that represent important stages in the preparation of published texts.

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In addition to drafts of his most important and well-known works, the Darwin Manuscripts Project goes beyond previous resources by including:

  • Previously unpublished manuscripts, including an “Experiment Book” begun by Darwin in 1856 that details his original scholarship on plant breeding strategies; and
  • Documents that served Darwin as reference tools for his science, such as his pocket diary, an invaluable source for dating Darwin’s intellectual development.

The Darwin Manuscripts Project organizes the naturalist’s writings into six thematic groupings that cover the full content of Darwin’s work as a creative experimenter in the sciences: The Beagle Record, Geological Papers, Creation of the Origin, Evolutionary Botany, Generation Papers, and Man & Emotion.

The Manuscripts Project is also fully integrated with Charles Darwin’s Library, a comprehensive and complementary initiative to present Darwin-as-reader and digitize all of the volumes in his personal scientific library. A collaborative effort with Cambridge University Library, the Natural History Museum of London, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Charles Darwin Library already includes more than half of Darwin’s books, most of which contain extensive marginalia and research notes and comprise the intellectual bedrock of his scientific work.

The Darwin Manuscripts Project is funded by two grants from the National Science Foundation, while the Darwin Library Project is jointly sponsored by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and National Endowment for the Humanities through a Transatlantic Digitization Collaboration Grant.

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