Article Index

Poster 1: Exploration


Charles Darwin (CD) studied South American natural history with rigour and a more open mind than many of his contemporaries. What were contributing factors considering that outstanding people are never self-made, but the result of favourable context, hard work and opportunity?

Among the early forming experiences was his relationship with John Edmonton, "a former South American slave of African ancestry established in Edinburgh, from whom CD took private lessons in taxidermy... it appears to have opened his mind to respecting people outside his narrow class and ethnic background, thus enabling him to learn from the people he met in his later travels and readings, and, ultimately, to formulate a theory that encompassed all of humanity, and embedded us within the same nature. This contrasts with the divisive schemes propagated by less open-minded contemporaries, e.g. Louis Agassiz and Richard Ower, whose religious prejudices, combined with social opportunism, ultimately undermined their science." (1)

This open-mindedness made it possible for CD to report all that he observed, as he did in his narrative, without prejudice. He was awestruck with the nature (encompassing plants and animals, including insects and humans) that greeted him in South America. His open mind imbibed, assembled, catalogued and later analysed all that he observed. The completeness of his entire scientific work can certainly be attributed in no small manner to the fact that he catalogued everything (including anthropological accounts). During that period, he was the first of his contemporaries to do so. Indeed, he probably started this way of reporting, which is very useful to us today.

Throughout his long and productive life, CD demonstrated a deep understanding of the relationship between observed facts and theory. He was constantly searching for the underlying principles that strung the otherwise isolated facts arising from observations, experiments, reading and exchanges with other people together in a coherent way. It is this critical and probing attitude that still serves us in good stead today.

(1) Pauly, D., 2004. Darwin's Fishes. Cambridge University Press, 340 p.