Dialogues with Darwin

April 17, 2009 – October 17, 2010

Dialogues with Darwin, an exhibition drawn from the American Philosophical Society’s own Darwin collection—the largest outside of Cambridge, England—celebrated Darwin's 200th birthday and the sesquicentennial of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species.

On view were original letters written by Darwin, manuscripts such as his handwritten title page for On the Origin of Species, rare first editions of his work (in many languages), and sumptuously illustrated books by other scientists. The exhibition traced the history of his theory of evolution through natural selection for more than a century, beginning prior to the 1830s, before Darwin jotted down his first thoughts about evolution, and continuing into the 1940s, when his theory was accepted as the basis for all life sciences.

The notion of “dialogue” lay behind all aspects of the exhibition and associated programs. The historical materials explored Darwin’s work in relation to other scientists and thinkers: the predecessors, contemporaries, and successors who were in dialogue with his ideas up through the mid-20th century. Contemporary artworks in the exhibition by Eve Andrée Laramée extended the dialogue into the present. Laramee’s steampunk aesthetic merged the visual and scientific worlds of Darwin’s Victorian era with 21st-century video technology.