Charles Darwin’s extensive library published virtually for first time

Charles Darwin

The vast library of Charles Darwin is being published virtually for the first time.

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To coincide with the 215th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday on Monday, the research team behind the Darwin Online project has released a 300-page catalog, CNN reported. The compilation includes the 7,400 titles and 13,000 volumes that Darwin originally owned, cited or read at the time of his death in 1882.

The catalog includes 9,300 links to copies of the library contents that are available for free online, according to the cable news network. Darwin is best known for his 1859 book, “On the Origin of Species,” which introduced the idea of evolution to the world, CNN reported.

The library virtual publication involved two decades of painstaking research and detective work to track down the books, journals, pamphlets and articles in his collection, according to The Guardian.

It is an eclectic collection, including a paper on epileptic guinea pigs and “Wives and Daughters,” the 1866 Elizabeth Gaskell novel he enjoyed, the newspaper reported. It also features the first photograph of bacteria, according to The Telegraph.

John van Wyhe, a historian of science at the National University of Singapore who has led the “overwhelming” project, said the collection showed the extraordinary extent of Darwin’s research into work done by others.

“It also shows how insanely eclectic Darwin was,” Van Wyhe told The Guardian. “There is this vast sea of things which might be an American or German news clipping about a duck or invasive grasshoppers. That’s been the fun part, not the formal books but the other things … all of which pool together to make the theories and publications we all know.”

Previous lists of Darwin’s library had only included 15% of his collection, The Telegraph reported. Most of the works are in English, although half of them were published in other languages, including German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Danish, according to the newspaper.

Those works, featuring 1,480 books, were kept at the University of Cambridge and Down House, Darwin’s family home in Downe, England, CNN reported. The home remains open to the public.

One of the books in the collection dates to Darwin’s time at school, including the 1821 book, “A History of England,” which he won as a prize, The Guardian reported. He also had a copy of his headmaster’s textbook on ancient geography, according to the newspaper.

The project to create a virtual library began in 2007.

At the time of Darwin’s death, an inventory of his home found that he owned more than 2,000 bound books, The Telegraph reported.

Researchers used a 426-page, handwritten catalog from 1875, comparing its abbreviated entries to reveal 440 unknown titles that were originally in the library.

“Scholars have been researching Darwin’s life and works for over a century,” van Wyhe told CNN. “One of the most important elements in understanding Darwin’s theories is his sources -- the publications by others that he used in his research.”

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