155 Years Later, Darwin's Manuscripts Are Going Digital

Online archives let you get inside the great biologist's head

Charles Darwin may be a household name now, but we haven't always had the theory of natural selection. On November 24, 1859, he published On the Origin of Species as a culmination of nearly three decades of research after his journey on the H.M.S. Beagle. Happy 155th anniversary of On the Origin of Species!

Now it's easier than ever to understand Darwin's original thoughts on evolution with digital archives made public by the Darwin Manuscripts Project. The project, founded in 2003, is a collaboration between the American Museum of Natural History, Cambridge University Library, and other organizations to digitally archive all of Darwin's works.

Today, the project is about halfway finished. You can look through 16,000 images of Darwin's drawings, annotations, and writings on evolution. By 2015, the archives will be expanded to 30,000 documents spanning from 1835 to 1882.

Check out the gallery below to see some of the original artwork from the books and from Darwin's personal collection.

Arctic Chimera

Arctic Chimera

This page about Arctic Chimera from Land and Water contains notations from Darwin, who used some information from the periodical to write his book The Descent of Man. The founder and editor of Land and Water, Francis Trevelyan Buckland, was, ironically, a strong opponent of Darwinism.Cambridge University Library
Insectivorous plant

Insectivorous Plant

Darwin's book Insectivorous Plants featured detailed illustrations by his sons, George and Francis Darwin, of botanical wonders. It was published in July 2, 1875.American Museum of Natural History
Fetus

Monkey Fetus

This creepy fetus photo was in a portfolio of musings and clippings that Darwin used to write The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Who knows what he was thinking when he chose this photograph.American Museum of Natural History
Fish

Fish Head

The Descent of Man actually dedicates several chapters to non-human evolution. This woodcut print of a fish head was in the section on cold blooded vertebrates.American Museum of Natural History
Primate

Primate

This furry little fellow was featured in the Descent of Man.American Museum of Natural History
flowers

Hand-Painted Flowers

A hand-colored illustration of a flower labeled, Muralitia ericaefolia was found amongst Darwin's manuscripts.American Museum of Natural History
Children's drawings

Children's Drawings

Darwin's children drew pictures of birds and butterflies on the back of the Origin of Species pages. Only about 500 pages of the original manuscript were saved.Cambridge University Library