The origins of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution – including the pages where he first coins and commits to paper the term ‘natural selection’ – were made available free online from Monday in one of the most significant releases of Darwin material in history.
The Cambridge Digital Library is releasing more than 12,000 hi-res images, alongside transcriptions and detailed notes as a result of an international collaboration with the Darwin Manuscript Project, based at the American Museum of Natural History, a university release said.
Also being published is a catalogue of the University Library’s Sanskrit Collections, detailing more than 1,600 manuscripts, 500 of which are fully digitised.
Along with important works from the many religious traditions of South Asia, including Vedic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist texts, the collection also includes texts on “secular” topics, ranging from works of poetry and drama to treatises on philosophy, mathematics, grammar, astronomy, law, eroticism and medicine.
The papers chart the evolution of Darwin’s journey, from early theoretical reflections while on board HMS Beagle, to the publication of On the Origin of Species 155 years ago, the release added.
The Cambridge library holds almost the entire collection of Darwin’s working scientific papers and the ones being released are the most important for understanding the development of his evolutionary theory.
They are being published simultaneously on the Cambridge Digital Library and Darwin Manuscripts Project websites, with a further release planned for June 2015, covering the notes and drafts of his eight post-Origin books.
None of the Darwin documents available from today have hitherto been digitised to the present high standard of full colour and high resolution, and many have never been transcribed or edited before now.
Professor David Kohn, director of the Darwin Manuscripts Project, said: “These documents truly constitute the surviving seedbed of the Origin. In them, Darwin hammered out natural selection and the structure of concepts he used to support natural selection. It was here also that he developed his evolutionary narrative and where he experimented privately with arguments and strategies of presentation that he either rejected or that eventually saw the light of day with the Origin’s publication on November 24, 1859.”
The current release includes important documents such as the “Transmutation” and “Metaphysical” notebooks of the 1830s and the 1842 “Pencil Sketch” which sees Darwin’s first use of the term “natural selection”.