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January 24, 2011
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Alfred Russel Wallace stands with Charles Darwin as an influential and innovative thinker on evolution.  Before the publication of Darwin's great work The Origin of Species in 1859, Wallace and Darwin were jointly credited with developing the key idea of natural selection, presented in a paper from them both to the Linnean Society in 1858.


Wallace's ideas had their foundations in his collecting experience in natural history: first in South America; and second in what is now Malaysia and Indonesia.  In particular, he was interested in the geographical distribution of species and how this related to evolution: what is now thought of as biogeography.

 

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The Museum has just purchased an album of sketches, watercolours and photographs belonging to Wallace from his family.  This is being added to a large collection in the NHM of Alfred Russel Wallace material: letters, notes, drawings and other papers. The collection is the second largest single depository of letter to and from Wallace, the British Library having the largest. The majority of the collection held in the NHM Library was purchased in 2002 from the Wallace family. Since then the family has presented to the Museum additional material, including more letters, papers and a few legal documents.

 

A project is now being led by George Beccaloni and Judith Magee to digitise all letters - not just the NHM collection - and make them available on-line with funding from the Mellon Foundation. The project employs one full time archivist and started in October 2010 to run for three years, culminating in 2013, the centenary of Wallace's death, and will be an important resource for historians of science.