Wallace collection learning activities

Teachers' guide

The Wallace Collection learning activities will help students explore the wide range of social factors that affect scientists' work. 

The activities are particularly suitable for post-16 students studying history or science in society.

Students will get a rare and personal insight into the life of Alfred Russel Wallace, the naturalist, social commentator, family man and spiritualist. We will focus on items that highlight Wallace's influence on the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • think critically about science and its foundations.
  • consider the social context in which scientists work and how this affects the development of their ideas
  • learn about the life of Alfred Russel Wallace, his role in developing the theory of natural selection and his relationship with Charles Darwin
  • develop the skills needed to research historical primary and secondary sources.

How to use the Wallace learning resources

Students will view digitised versions of primary source materials such as letters, photographs and research notes, along with newspaper articles, interviews, publications and even trays of insect specimens collected by Wallace.

Each letter is accompanied by a full transcription and interpretation. Students can use the text provided as a starting point to guide their own research and analysis.

Teachers can incorporate these activities into lessons or homework. Students might also use the activities as a self-study exercise.

Related activity - the Great Debate workshop

Why not bring students to the Great Debate workshop held at the Natural History Museum? It's a great way to learn about the history of the evolution debate.

The Great Debate workshop addresses how the social context affected the development and acceptance of Darwin’s theory, and how controversies can arise from interpreting empirical evidence in different ways.

In the spectacular surroundings of our galleries, students will use Museum exhibits to support evolutionist or creationist viewpoints, bringing their own spark to this topical Victorian debate.

For full details, including how to book see

The Great Debate schools programme