BBC Kicks Off Darwin Year

young Charles DarwinThe BBC’s radio show “In Our Time” has begun the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (and the 150th of the publication of his most important book, Origin of Species) with an episode called “On the Origins of Charles Darwin.” It is narrated by Melvyn Bragg and includes discussions with various scholars of Darwin’s life and dramatized quotations from Darwin’s own writings.

The show begins with a description by Darwin biographer James Moore of the theology-dominated Cambridge University which the young Darwin entered with the intention of becoming an Anglican minister. Then it moves on to Steve Jones‘s account of what turned out to be Darwin’s primary occupation at Cambridge — competitive beetle collecting. Then Cambridge paleobiologist David Norman joins the group to talk about Darwin’s difficult childhood and his illustrious family. The conversations comes round to Darwin’s earlier unsuccessful foray into medicine at Edinburgh. Cambridge librarian Colin Higgins takes us through a number of Darwin’s personal letters and drawings that are preserved in the university archives. We also hear a bit about figures such as the famed natural theologian William Paley, Darwin’s radical grandfather Erasmus Darwin, the Cambridge anti-transmutationist John Ray, and the Edinburgh Lamarckian Robert Grant. A good deal of time is taken to explore the profound influence that Cambridge naturalist John Stevens Henslow had on Darwin’s early formation into the foremost naturalist of his time.

It ends with Darwin accompanying Adam Sedgwick on a geological survey of north Wales in 1831, and with Henslow’s recommendation that Darwin serve as the captain’s companion on a ship called The Beagle that was setting sail for South America.

The show runs 43 minutes in length. More episodes are forthcoming, covering the rest of Darwin’s life.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

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