Wallace Collection learning activities

Developing new scientific theories

Use Wallace’s letters to understand how his ideas developed.

Explore some of the items in the Wallace Collection below then answer the questions beneath each link..

Skills practice: research and analysis

WP1/3/39: The insect life of the Malay Archipelago

This letter, dated April 1856, is from Wallace to fellow entomologist Henry Walter Bates. It includes details about the insects of the Malay Archipelago and ideas about geographical distribution.

  1. What evidence in this letter suggests Wallace was a successful insect collector?
  2. On page 1, written vertically, Wallace says he puts ‘locality tickets’ on each of his specimens (birds and insects he collects). What does this mean? How would it help Wallace to investigate biogeography? Look at the transcription if it is hard to read.
WP1/3/52: Wallace on biogeography

This letter, dated December 1861, is from Wallace to fellow insect collector Henry Walter Bates.

In the letter Wallace discusses his work on biogeography. Find a quote that gives evidence that Wallace thought rivers acted as barriers to distribution, ie that animals could not cross the rivers and spread out.

WP1/8/139: Wallace comments on Darwin's work

This letter, dated September 1868, is from Wallace to Charles Darwin. It presents his arguments against Darwin’s views on coloration in female animals.

  1. Wallace wrote a lot about animal colouring. On page 3, his first two points discuss mimicry in butterflies. This is when one species looks like another species in order to provide protection from predators. Try to summarise Wallace’s idea from points 8 and 9 in the letter.
  2. Quickly scan the original letter. How does the way it is written reveal Wallace’s personality and how he felt about his work as a naturalist? What is your evidence?