Charles Darwin will be 200 on February 12, 2009. Born in Shrewsbury, England, on the same day as Abraham Lincoln, Darwin’s insights have structured two centuries of modern biology in much the same way that Lincoln’s have influenced American government.
After studying both religion and medicine, young Charles Darwin took a five-year voyage around the world on the H.M.S. Beagle. From fossils and coral reefs to orchids and finches, nothing escaped his careful observation. After he returned to England, it took him more than 20 years to formulate and publish the ideas that germinated on the voyage. That was time well spent, because today Darwin’s theory of natural selection forms the foundation of biology and his methodology influences virtually all of the social and physical sciences.
In honor of Darwin’s birthday, a number of agencies have produced an outstanding selection of resources for teachers. Using the internet, teachers and students can voyage around the world to review his ideas and share in the celebrations of his accomplishments. Here are just a few of the many resources available:
- NSTA has an outstanding selection of resources for the teaching of evolution. In the NSTA Learning Center, you can find a variety of resources, including many articles from the NSTA journals. If you’re searching for publications to bolster your school’s reference collection, NSTA Recommends offers 220 teacher reviews of publications keyed to the concept of evolution. There are 137 products referenced in NSTA’s science store. Especially recommended are:
- Take a trip around the world to explore the great variety of celebrations that are happening during the week of Darwin’s birthday at the Darwin Day Celebration website. There, you’ll find resources in a variety of languages; these include special lectures like “What is it like to be 98% chimp?”
- Another special website is Visionlearning’s page, entitled “Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin!”
- The Linnaean Society offers a special collection of links, which includes original essays by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. There’s also an online version of the society’s special edition.
- A variety of informal science centers have special celebrations and websites; you can visit in person or virtually through their websites. One of the best is generated from the New York Hall of Science.
- The National Association of Biology Teachers has compiled a special theme edition of The American Biology Teacher for February. They also offer a link to a special resource “15 Evolutionary Gems” from the journal Nature from January, 2009.
- The Public Library of Science (PLOS) includes links, a blog site, and many research links.
- One quarter of all the flowering plants in the world are in the orchid family—a topic that fascinated Charles Darwin. The amazing mutualism of orchids and pollinators provided a potent inspiration for much of his thinking on co-evolution. In each orchid species, one of its three petals is specifically adapted to attract some species of insect, often showing creative mimicry. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History has created a special exhibit and website that illustrates this concept.
- Eugenie Scott’s Evolution vs. Creationism (Greenwood Press, 2004 and University of California Press, 2005) is now in paperback, with some of the best summaries of current science and politics available for teachers.
If you haven’t the time to plan an appropriate birthday celebration, you can still plan ahead for another important date. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species will reach the ripe age of 150 on November 24, 2009. Darwin’s text is outstandingly lucid, colorful, and interesting—a scientific travelogue with as much relevance today as it had to his readers in the 19th century. Read the entire text—or selections—from Darwin’s classic online at or play the podcasts through the Project Gutenberg. The complete works of Darwin can be accessed online.