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Mirabile Dictu: The Bryn Mawr College Library Newsletter

Fall 2009 Issue 13

Darwin and His Ancestors

2009 has seen events and celebrations throughout the world marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his landmark book, On the Origin of Species. Bryn Mawr College Library will join the festivities with its new exhibition Darwin’s Ancestors: Tracing the Origins of the Origin of Species, opening Thursday, 22 October, in the Class of 1912 Rare Book Room in Canaday Library. The exhibition will run through February 2010.

Darwin’s Ancestors will examine the development of natural history from the mid-sixteenth century, when the field was transformed by the appearance of strange new plants and animals brought to Europe from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Over the following three hundred years, amateur and professional scientists enthusiastically collected, described, and classified the natural world both at home and abroad, and looked for ways of understanding the relationships among species. This exhibition will feature the work of many of the key collectors, classifiers, and theorists, from Leonhart Fuchs and Conrad Gesner in the early period, through John Ray and Linnaeus in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Lyell, and Darwin himself in the nineteenth century.

The exhibition at Bryn Mawr is being produced in cooperation with the Haverford College Library, which will also mount a Darwin show in mid-October. The Haverford exhibition will focus on the influence of Darwin as well as Edward Drinker Cope on the teaching of natural sciences at Haverford College in the nineteenth century. The title of their show will be Charles Darwin, Edward Drinker Cope, and the Evolution of Natural Sciences Teaching at Haverford.

The curators of the Bryn Mawr exhibition are Angelique Wille, a graduate student in the History of Art; Marybeth Matlack, a senior Medieval Studies major, and Eric Pumroy, Director of Library Collections.

The opening event will feature Scott Gilbert, Professor of Biology at Swarthmore College, lecuring on “Disagreements Among Friends: How T. H. Morgan and E. B. Wilson’s Agreeing to Disagree Helped Establish Genetics and the Modern Synthesis.” Wilson was Bryn Mawr’s first Biology professor, and Morgan the second, and both played prominent roles in the international debates over evolution during the first half of the twentieth century. The lecture will be at 4:30 pm on Thursday, 22 October in Carpenter Library 21.


Cartoon from Punch’s Almanack for 1882.

“Aesculapius, Flora, Ceres and Cupid Honoring the Bust of Linnaeus,” from Robert Thornton, The Temple of Flora. London: 1799.