Wallace and evolution at London Natural History Museum

This video is called Operation Wallacea Indonesia forest research assistant.

By Theo Arrowsmith in Britain:

Wallace – evolution’s man of mystery

Sunday 26 May 2013

If you visit London’s Natural History Museum you will see gracing the main staircase an imposing statue of the legendary naturalist Charles Darwin.

But what you might not notice, off to the left, is a far less prominent, and only recently installed, portrait of natural selection’s often forgotten co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace.

Wallace hailed from modest circumstances and left school at age 14 to work as an apprentice railway surveyor.

Throughout his life he was always short of funds, financing his researches by collecting exotic species from abroad and sending them home to paying collectors.

He also variously worked grading government examinations, writing scientific papers for modest sums and was paid by Darwin to help edit some of his own work.

By contrast the young Darwin, from a privileged background, was able to dither about whether to enter the clergy or pursue some other comfortable profession.

In fact, the offer of a berth on HMS Beagle most probably rescued him from a life of relative idleness.

Darwin went on to become extremely wealthy by careful dealing in the stocks and shares of the developing railway system.

None of this should be seen as reducing Darwin’s status as a scientist, nor as a humanitarian – he was anti-slavery and anti-racist – but out of the pair Wallace is arguably the more intriguing.

Not only did he discover the mechanism of evolutionary change, he was a prominent advocate of the socialist ideas that were then occupying the thoughts of a German economist named Karl Marx and English mill-owner Robert Owen and also campaigned for the public ownership of land.

So this year’s celebrations of the centenary of Wallace’s death are not to be missed.

A team of enthusiasts and scientists are running a programme of lectures and events centred around the Natural History Museum, but also incorporating a range of venues across the country.

A talk on June 6 at the museum is the next opportunity to discover more about this great thinker.

This fifth talk, titled Making Livings: Why Darwin’s and Wallace’s Theories Were Worlds Apart, will “explore how different the Victorian naturalists … were in their socio-economic backgrounds and in their thinking about evolution.”

The speaker will be Professor James Moore, who coauthored Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery And The Quest For Human Origins and has an interesting academic background, with degrees in science, divinity and history.

Even comedian Bill Bailey has been getting involved in the centenary project, describing Wallace as “the greatest field naturalist of the 19th century – perhaps ever.”

Indeed, he is such a fan that he produced a pair of recent TV programmes on the scientist, in which he points out that “a huge swathe of Indonesia,” where Wallace carried out much of his research, “is named after the great man himself” – the 350,000 square kilometres of Wallacea.

To date, it seems that Indonesia has more respect for this evolutionary titan than has his homeland.

Admission to the Natural History Museum talk is free, but seats must be booked via the museum’s website at www.nhm.ac.uk.


10 thoughts on “Wallace and evolution at London Natural History Museum

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