Charles Darwin did a great deal of the research leading to his controversial theory of evolution by exploring the plant and animal life of the volcanic Galapagos Islands and by corresponding with people around the world about his ideas. "The Galapagos became important to Darwin in relation to the Cape Verde Islands, which Darwin visited earlier on the Beagle voyage," said Duncan Porter, professor of biology at Virginia Tech and director of The Darwin Correspondence Project. "Both groups of islands are tropical, arid, and within a few hundred miles of South America and Africa. What Darwin noticed was that their plants and animals were not similar to each others', but to those of the nearby continent."
This and other observations about the similarities and differences of the plants and animals on the islands and the nearby continents led Darwin to conclude "that they must have had common ancestors, that they must have evolved," Porter said.
The Darwin Correspondence Project has published 12 of a projected 32-volume set of Darwin's letters, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, and is sending those published volumes back to the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos.
Darwin's letters provide a good historical view of the way the scientist's ideas took shape. They cover his childhood years, in which he shows his typical teasing sibling relationship with his sister, as well as the years he spent traveling on HMS Beagle and the years leading up to his Origin of Species. That book outlined his theory of evolution by natural selection and started a never-ending debate over its validity.
Darwin exchanged letters not only with distinguished scientists, but also with people of all walks of life who could help him with his research--gardeners, army officers, fur trappers, among many others. I
Contact: Duncan M. Porter