Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226523118 Will Publish January 2018
E-book $50.00 Available for pre-order. ISBN: 9780226523255 Will Publish January 2018

Darwin's Evolving Identity

Adventure, Ambition, and the Sin of Speculation

Alistair Sponsel

Darwin's Evolving Identity

Alistair Sponsel

336 pages | 13 color plates, 27 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018
Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226523118 Will Publish January 2018
E-book $50.00 ISBN: 9780226523255 Will Publish January 2018
Why—against his mentor’s exhortations to publish—did Charles Darwin take twenty years to reveal his theory of evolution by natural selection? In Darwin’s Evolving Identity, Alistair Sponsel argues that Darwin adopted this cautious approach to atone for his provocative theorizing as a young author spurred by that mentor, the geologist Charles Lyell.  While we might expect him to have been tormented by guilt about his private study of evolution, Darwin was most distressed by harsh reactions to his published work on coral reefs, volcanoes, and earthquakes, judging himself guilty of an authorial “sin of speculation.” It was the battle to defend himself against charges of overzealous theorizing as a geologist, rather than the prospect of broader public outcry over evolution, which made Darwin such a cautious author of Origin of Species

Drawing on his own ambitious research in Darwin’s manuscripts and at the Beagle’s remotest ports of call, Sponsel takes us from the ocean to the Origin and beyond. He provides a vivid new picture of Darwin’s career as a voyaging naturalist and metropolitan author, and in doing so makes a bold argument about how we should understand the history of scientific theories.

Part I Theorizing on the Move

1 Darwin’s Opportunity
Coral Reefs as Objects of Fascination and Terror
Studying Reef Formation as an Objective of the Beagle Voyage
Darwin’s Training in the Sciences
Enthusiasm for the South Sea Islands
2 An Amphibious Being
Darwin’s Approach to Scientific Work at the Beginning of the Voyage
Hydrography Becomes a Resource for the Naturalist
An Ambitious Plan for Studying Zoophytes
3 Studying Dry Land with a Maritime Perspective
Applying the Lessons of Hydrography to the Interpretation of Geology
Elevation and Subsidence
4 The Making of a Eureka Moment
The Dangerous Reefs of the Low Archipelago
The View from Tahiti
Theorizing Like Humboldt in a Floating Library
5 The Surveyor-Naturalist
Darwin’s Sea-Level Study of the South Keeling Reef
Seeing Underwater: The Hydrographic Survey at South Keeling
Darwin’s Hydrographic Initiative at Mauritius

Part II Training in Theory

6 Lyell Claims Darwin as a Student
Homeward Bound as an Aspiring Geologist
Lyell as an Author
Master and Student
The Primacy of Geology in Darwin’s Private, as Well as Public, Activities
7 Darwin’s Audacity, Lyell’s Choreography
Going Public
Putting the Coral Theory to Work
An Astonished Response from the Geological Elite
Darwin’s Emergence as a Practitioner of Lyellian Geological Speculation
8 Burned by Success
Darwin’s New Persona
The Obligations of a Student to His Master
The Beginnings of Darwin’s Anxiety about Speculation

Part III A Different Approach to Authorship

9 The Life of a Tormented Geologist (and Enthusiastic Evolutionist)
Darwin’s Turn toward Empiricism and the Ideal of Comprehensiveness
The Pressure of Public Expectations
Lyell’s Appropriation of the Coral Reef Theory
Studying Species as a Diversion from the Task at Hand
10 A Finished Task: Darwin’s Treatise on Coral Reefs
The Space between Lyell and Darwin
A Mountain of Facts
The Theory Emerges
The Immediate Reaction to Coral Reefs
A Theory in Use and in Memory

Part IV Writing the Origin with His “Fingers Burned”

11 Atoning for the Sin of Speculation
Balancing Speculation with Facts
Rejecting Lyell’s Suggestion to Publish a “Sketch”
Lyell Choreographs Another Debut
Publishing an “Abstract” After All: On the Origin of Species
Dealing with Darwin’s “Recollections”
Lyell, Darwin, and Authorship
Studying Practices, Learning about Theories
Review Quotes
Janet Browne, Harvard University
“This lively, revisionist study transforms what we know about Charles Darwin’s early years as a practicing scientist. We see Darwin as a bold young geologist, stunning the geological community with his innovative theory of coral reef formation, and as a new author eager to manage his growing reputation by strategizing with his friend and mentor Charles Lyell. Sponsel puts geology back into the story of species. More than this, this insightful book explores the deep, and often challenging, relationships between knowledge, theory, and publication in the world of nineteenth century science.”
David Kaiser, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“How difficult it is to recapture the young Charles Darwin, first navigating the shoals of scientific theorizing and authorship, long before he became the Darwin of legend. Yet in this engaging and original study, Alistair Sponsel accomplishes just that, delivering fresh insights into Darwin’s own evolution. Absolutely fascinating.”
Jim Secord, University of Cambridge
Darwin’s Evolving Identity is an excellent—indeed outstanding—work of scholarship, which makes major interventions in the literature on Darwin and his theory, as well as setting these interventions in a broader context that will draw interest well beyond the specific world of Darwin studies.”
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