Monday, 29 June 2009

Darwin Film Festival in Cambridge

Readers in, or who can get to, Cambridge in July may be interested in the Darwin-related film season taking place at the Cambridge Picturehouse cinema.

Coinciding with the Darwin 2009 Festival at the University of Cambridge (and, of course, to celebrate the Darwin200 anniversary), the film season groups together a seemingly random mix of documentaries, blockbusters and art films, with a loose relation to evolution.

Film's on show include the documentary Darwin's Nightmare, about the disastrous introduction of Nile Perch fish to Lake Victoria in Africa, which completely unbalanced the ecosystem. Elsewhere there's the like's of Danny Boyle's Sci-Fi epic Sunshine and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (the latter's ape-bone scene perhaps one of the most iconic evolution montages in cinema history). And, curiously, The Golden Compass, the adaptation of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Darwin Endless forms - exhibition and podcast

The Darwin Endless Forms exhibition explores Darwin's interest in the visual arts, alongside some of the artistic responses to his ideas in the later 19th century.

The exhibition, supported by the Wellcome Trust as part of its Darwin200 activities, opens this week at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and runs until October. Featuring works by Turner, Degas, Monet and C├ęzanne it looks at the impact of the theory of evolution upon artists of the late nineteenth century, offering "an intriguing new perspective on the cultural resonance of Darwin’s theories."

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of podcasts exploring Darwin's life, work and legacy. The first two looked at Darwin's fascination with Geology and his student days at Christ College Cambridge. You can download and watch the audio and video files here.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Darwin: the movie: the trailer

Last week the Telegraph unveiled the trailer for the upcoming film Creation, about Darwin's struggle with his scientific findings and religious background. According to the Telegraph, "It explores the relationship between Darwin and his daughter Annie whose early death deeply affected him and his views on religion."

Based on the book Annie’s Box: Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution by Darwin's great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, the film stars Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin and his real-life wife Jennifer Connolly as Emma Darwin. It is scheduled for a September release in cinemas.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Darwin Correspondence Project

Darwin, like all men of science at the time, wrote a lot of letters, formulating numerous ideas through correspondence with his scientific peers. The good news for Darwin fans is that all those letters are being made available on the web through an ambitious project.

The Darwin Correspondence Project, run by the Cambridge University Library and part-funded by the Wellcome Trust, aims to annotate and transcribe Darwin’s letters, making them freely available online. Its scope and aims are examined by Penny Bailey in a feature article for the Wellcome Trust website.

The Project features letters during his writing of 'On the Origin of Species', as well as correspondence from his time on the HMS Beagle. As well as Darwin's own writings, the Project team have also taken the time to locate, scan and annotate letters written to Darwin by other scientists and academics.

As Professor Jim Second, who leads the project from the Cambridge University Library, says, "Darwin depended on a much wider network of correspondence - including professional scientists, schoolteachers, colonial settlers, plant and animal breeders, missionaries and even clerics - to formulate his ideas. Science is a dialogue, and the letters show it in action."

The letters give insight into the history of evolutionary theory, and indeed science, at the time, as well as demonstrating just how good Darwin was at cajoling interest and support from others.

So far, the Project has located around 15,000 letters exchanged by Darwin and his correspondents. Visitors to the Project website can currently read the full texts of over 5000 letters and find information on the remainder using a searchable calendar and database. There are also extensive supporting materials for teachers and researchers, notably on ecological science and the relations between science and religious belief.

Image: Letter from Charles Darwin to Dr.George E.Shuttleworth, Medical Superintendent, Royal Albert Ayslum, Lancaster concerning the children of first cousins. Credit: Wellcome Library, London