Darwin’s doodles digitised

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Image: Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887).
Image: Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887).

Darwin’s doodles digitised

Were you told not to ‘scribble’ in books as a child? I was. And I obeyed. But as I get older and more inclined to forget what I’ve read, I tend to add marginal notes in books, on articles, etc. Whether Charles Darwin (botanist, naturalist, zoologist, etc.) was similarly admonished I know not, but he certainly had the ‘marginalising’ bug and now his personal library (that’s the books within the library, not the library itself…) is going digital, and is freely accessible by all. Whilst it will no doubt be interesting to see the titles in the venerable gentleman’s collection, more interest is likely to be directed at the annotations he made in many of those tomes. The Biodiversity Heritage Library has so far digitised and published online 330 of the most heavily annotated resources inDarwin’s library. ‘Every annotation, including underlines and crossed-out passages, has been painstakingly transcribed and catalogued and are searchable by keyword’. This tale reminds me of a story I once heard of how binomial nomenclature ‘came to be’. Apparently, Linnaeus wrote in terms of polynomials in his early days, but added a marginal annotation of a single word for the verbose descriptive part of the organism’s Latin descriptor. That marginal annotation subsequently became the specific epithet which, when united with the generic name, became the much-easier-to-remember binomial we know and love today. True or not, let’s hear it for those who doodle, scribble or annotate in the margins – they may just be doing posterity a great service, and not simply end up destined to be a mere footnote of history!


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