For decades available only to scholars at Cambridge University Library, the private papers of Charles Darwin, one of the most influential scientists in history, can now be seen by anyone online and free of charge. This is the largest ever publication of Darwin papers and manuscripts, totalling about 20,000 items in over 100,000 electronic images.
We are extremely grateful for the kind permission of Cambridge University Library to reproduce these online. (See the Cambridge University Library Order Form for Digital Images.) They are presented in the same sequence as the original catalogue, which was divided mostly into bound volumes, each with a library classmark.
History of the material: The Darwin family and the Pilgrim Trust presented a magnificent collection of Darwin's papers to Cambridge University Library in 1942; they were delivered after the war. As the 1960 Handlist describes:
They were in parcels each containing small packets of manuscript wrapped in tissue paper on which the subjects had been noted in Darwin's hand. They were presumably just as Darwin left them, and accordingly this arrangement was preserved when they were bound, the volumes now representing as closely as possible Charles Darwin's papers in the order in which he left them. Beside the original papers there were copies of a large number of letters to Darwin, collections of press-cuttings, etc.
These online images are scans from copies of early black and white microfilms produced by the Cambridge University Library Imaging Service, mostly in the 1990s. For online publication now a slight colour tint has been added to many and the brightness and contrast have been digitally enhanced. (To compare a document with and without the colour tint click here and here.) Please note that many of the Darwin papers have been re-catalogued since microfilming in the 1990s. In some cases items have been re-ordered or moved to other volumes in the archive. In such cases the electronic images may not match the current arrangement of the papers in Cambridge University Library.
The immense value of this vast collection of material far exceeds the disadvantages of the occasional unreadable image and the lack of full colour. Several million pounds and years of production would be needed to produce colour digital images of the Darwin Archive. Hopefully this will eventually be achieved. In the meantime, most of the world's finest collection of Darwin's original manuscripts is now available for all to read, study and explore online and free of charge.
For an overview of Darwin's papers click here.
Darwin Online cannot give permission to reproduce Darwin manuscripts; enquiries about this should be addressed to Adam Perkins, Curator of Scientific Manuscripts in the University Library (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)
Many individuals and institutions have helped to make Darwin Online possible, for a complete list see Acknowledgements.
The papers can be found in two ways:
1. Browse through whole volumes of Darwin's papers . Click here.
2. Search the catalogue for specific items, people, dates etc. Click here.
First sketch of the theory of evolution, 1842
Emma Darwin's recipe book. Darwin family photos
Selections from the Darwin papers
• Darwin's papers from the Beagle voyage. Click here.
• Drafts of Darwin's unpublished 'big book', Natural selection. Click here.
• Notes & drafts for his book Descent of Man. Click here.
• Unpublished photos collected for Expression of the Emotions. Click here.
• Reviews of Darwin's works. Click here.
• Darwin and experimentation on animals. Click here.
• Darwin's accounts with his publisher John Murray for 1881. Click here.
See a list of all available online images of Darwin's papers. Click here.
See Darwin's handwriting beside a typed version:
[Beagle animal notes (1832-33)]. Text & images
'Chiloe Janr. 1835' [Beagle notes]. Text & images
'The position of the bones of Mastodon (?) at Port St Julian is of interest'. Text & images
[Darwin's personal 'Journal' (1809-1881)]. Text & images
[An autobiographical fragment] (08.1838). Text & images
'Our poor child, Annie' [Darwin's reminiscence of Anne Elizabeth Darwin] (30.04.1851). Text & images
The collection is organized into categories:
• Abstract — Darwin's reading notes.
• Draft — Darwin's rough drafts of his many publications.
• Figure — Drawings, diagrams and tables.
• Note — Includes most of Darwin's notes, usually organized into subject portfolios.
• Photo — Photographs.
• Printed — Published items such as reviews of Darwin's works or clippings he collected for his researches.
Read about the reception of the launch of Darwin's papers here.
John van Wyhe