November 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s landmark book On the Origin of Species, the book that changed forever the way we think about the natural world and our place in it. As revolutionary as Darwin’s writings on evolution were, though, they were not the product of an isolated genius. Since the sixteenth century, European scientists had struggled to find ways of understanding the surprising diversity of life that the new explorations of Asia, Africa and the Americas were revealing. Further complicating the problem by the late seventeenth century was the unearthing of large numbers of fossils of unknown plants and animals, suggesting that life forms and the earth’s surface itself had undergone considerable transformation over time. This exhibition will look at some of the major figures in natural history over the three hundred years before Darwin, and how their efforts at collecting, classifying and explaining the natural world laid the groundwork for Darwin’s breakthrough.
Darwin's Ancestors ran from October 2009 through February 2010 in the Rare Book Room of Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College.