Darwin: blogging and twittering in the 19th century?

26 01 2009

The Evolution RevolutionYou will be hearing about Darwin a lot this year, as 2009 marks 200 years of his birth and 150 years of “The Origin of Species”. Regardless of what you think about Darwin the scientist, there are lots to learn from Darwin the man.

Last summer, I visited “Darwin: The Evolution Revolution” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It was the first time I saw him not as a naturalist, but as a person. You still can catch the exhibition till April 19 in the Natural History Museum in London, renamed “Darwin – Big Idea” (see the slideshow for a taste of what you’ll find there).

The handwritten notes and letters caught my attention immediately, as they ranged from the deeply scientific (the famous “I think” sketch with the evolutionary tree) to the trivial and mundane (Fanny Owen, Darwin’s first girlfriend, asking “Why did you not come home this Christmas? I suppose some dear little Beetles kept you away!”).

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote a blog post wondering what it would be like if folks like Darwin, Shakespeare and Martin Luther King had blogs. I didn’t imagine back then that Darwin actually had the next best thing available to him: a notebook, a pen, and the discipline to write almost daily about whatever crossed his mind.

Darwin left a huge written record in books, articles, notebooks and more than 14,000 letters. Looking at them, I can’t help but see the similarities with the Social Media tools we use today. See for example one of his notes aboard the Beagle:

Darwin Manuscripts

I can almost see a “Powered by WordPress.com” at the bottom of his entries🙂 .

If you keep digging, you’ll find also his journal:

Darwin Manuscripts

If only he had Twitter and GPS, eh? I would follow him for sure.

Bad jokes aside, I find fascinating that you can know so much about a person who was born 200 years ago. It’s been said that “thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time”. Darwin was doing that back in 1822 at age 12!

So, if you think you know Charles, take a look at the “10 Fun Facts About Darwin” at Neatorama.com. You’ll find that not only he described plenty of new species, he ate several of them too, including armadillos, iguanas and tortoises. And that he once wrote that a wife was “better than a dog” for companion. Not exactly the most romantic thing to say about your significant other, but geeks will always be geeks, I guess.

If you want to learn more about the man, I highly recommend BBC’s “In Our Time” Darwin series, and also Darwin’s Legacy, a lecture series from Stanford University at iTunes U. You won’t be disappointed.


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6 responses

27 01 2009
benedictedelachanal

Hi Aaron,
great posts.
you think Darwin would have been a blogger and I think Van Gogh would have been one too, I can imagine him twittering his latest painting to his brother.
Regarding the post on blogging, I thought that rss are in the stats. If not, how can we know if there are some?
Your post on spelling changes is also very interesting. it is an ongoing debate in french too. I am an enthusiastic supporter about simplification of the “orthographe français” (spelling) but it never comes! It was a torture for me in school and it’s still is.
I dont think that simplification of spelling is taking away culture and that it is an impoverishment of the language, or that it will impose the same language every where.. On the contrary, it enables more people to write and communicate.
I would love to be able to write “fotos” in stead of “photos” in French.

27 01 2009
Aaron

Hey Bénédicte,

We can’t do much about Van Gogh anymore, but I do think you should do TwitPics from your drawings. You will just reach a wider audience, and they won’t be disappointed by following you.

The only way I know about accounting for RSS is using something like feedburner to tell you how many people are subscribing, but not how many are actually reading each post.

I’m 100% with you for the simplification of the written language. If only a small percentage of the population know how to write properly, how proper that actually is? I guess what bothered me the most in the spelling reform in Brazil is that it felt like imposed by a few scholars and politicians, and it did not achieve the simplification that was needed. For example, the rules for when to use the hyphen are just too complex for them to be useful.

28 01 2009
benedictedelachanal

thank you Aaron for all the infos.
You are right, reforms are imposed by few old scholars, always missing the train, specially now were communication is so fast. People are doing the reforms, unofficially, specially the young ones. Languages are evolving very fast.

10 02 2009
Charles Darwin

In fact, I am twittering and blogging my voyage.

twitter.com/cdarwin

and

http://www.thebeaglevoyage.com

6 03 2009
Twitter « CARNET DE DESSINS/BĂ©nĂ©dicte’s blog

[…] in twittering ephemeral art? Let me know.      Many thanks to Aaron, the bamboo raft, for the encouragement and help, so now I can Twitter, sort […]

10 08 2009
Eef

Dutch public broadcaster VPRO will be resailing the Beagle Voyage (starting sep 1st), with – amongst others – Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter Sarah Darwin. For these tv-series we are trying to contact @cdarwin on Twitter. Can any one tell me who is behind these wonderful Beagle-tweets?
More on our project: http://beagle.vpro.nl/#page/item/12/english/

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