New NSF grant awarded to the Darwin Manuscripts Project (DMP)

by Darwin Manuscripts Project on

Gottesman Research Library News

The Darwin Manuscripts Project (DMP) is pleased to announce that it was awarded a three-year grant totaling $426,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Division. This funding will support an exciting new phase of the project, The Botanical Manuscripts of Charles Darwin. 

The Botanical Manuscripts will provide edited transcriptions of a prodigious collection of never published Darwinian research materials. They represent 17% of the entire Cambridge collection of Darwin scientific manuscripts and form close to 50% of the Darwin manuscripts that deal directly with evolution. The DMP transcriptions will be displayed side-by-side with the corresponding high-resolution and full-color images that are currently being digitized from the originals at Cambridge University Library, thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The transcribed and annotated texts produced will be disseminated by the Darwin Manuscripts Project (DMP) website and will form an integral part to our publishing of the comprehensive digital edition of Charles Darwin’s Scientific Manuscripts.

After the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, Charles Darwin wrote six botanical books based on twenty years of research on plant-breeding systems, insectivorous plants, and plant movement. They amounted to compelling empirical demonstrations that evolution by natural selection could explain complex adaptations. The work succeeded in transforming biological understanding of flowers and opened new lines of physiological research which continue to influence contemporary plant science.

DAR 49: 115r (Origin Portfolios I)Drawing (dated 1867.01) - Dissection of Strelitizia flower; drawn by George Howard Darwin (signed), annotated with key to flower parts by Charles Darwin.

The Botanical Manuscripts of Charles Darwin will include all the surviving documentation of his two botanical research programs concentrated on two guiding themes. These themes are the Meaning of Flowers, encompassing the manuscripts bearing directly on Darwin’s efforts to interpret plant-breeding systems in the light of the species theory, and Plant Behavior, encompassing the record of Darwin’s work (1860-1882) on insectivorous plants and plant movement.

These botanical manuscripts comprise the largest surviving body of Darwin’s experimental designs and data. The Botanical

Strelitzia reginae. Pl. 78. Les liliacées / par P.J. Redouté.

Manuscripts edition will contain 15,241 individual pages of manuscripts, which were produced in the course of Darwin’s empirical botanical research, and document his scientific activities as undoubtedly the world’s first evolutionary botanist. In the Botanical Manuscripts, we meet Darwin the empirical researcher, who was inspired by the intricate beauty of nature and motivated by the need to defend evolution. The Botanical Manuscripts of Charles Darwin include both the inception and maturation of his most fully articulated, practical application of his theory. There are three important domains that will be considerably illuminated and opened for study by publication of the Botanical Manuscripts: (1) Darwin’s botanical deductions from his early evolutionary theory, (2) field observations, dissections, and abundantly noted, plant-centered thought experiments flowing from these deductions, and (3) his later development as the first practitioner and creator of evolutionary experimentalism.

The Darwin Manuscripts Project has made steady progress towards its long-term goal to produce and widely disseminate an online edition of the entire corpus of Charles Darwin's scientific manuscripts. In this effort, DMP has previously been supported by three grants from NSF for editing and two grants from NEH for digitization. Nearly 15,000 manuscript pages towards completion of the Evolution Manuscripts have been produced and the editing of the 15,000 botanical manuscripts, funded here, is one last large and coherent body of documents, towards this goal.  At its completion, a significant milestone will be reached: all Darwin’s 1835-1882 papers bearing on evolution will then be online, edited and digitized in a manner commensurate with their historical significance and their world-wide public audience.