The Grandeur of Life Exhibit

A Celebration of Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species:
An Exhibition of Rare Books from the History of Science Collection
by William B. Ashworth, Jr.


Where: Linda Hall Library
When: October 1, 2009 through March 27, 2010

  • Monday: 9:00 am – 8:30 pm
  •  Tuesday-Friday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

A little over a week ago, on the evening of October 1, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of this wonderful exhibition.  My words would put the exhibit to shame so read the introductory words that the library has published in a brochure for the exhibit.

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809.  When he was fifty years old, in 1859, he published On the Origin of Species, a book destined to radically change our view of the living world.  In 2009, we celebrate both the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his great work.

Darwin began his scientific career as a naturalist, as someone who collected plant and animal specimens, studied and recorded the details of their structures, and attempted to identify and classify them.  He thus worked within the framework that was known as natural history.  Natural history had a vernerable pedigree, with its roots in Aristotle, but it especially flourished and matured in the four centuries before the Origin of Species.  Darwin was the direct heir of naturalists like Konrad Gesner, who published the first illustrated encyclopedia of zoology (1551-58), Carl Linnaeus, who successfully sorted out the plant and animal kingdoms with his influential taxonmic Systems of Nature (1735), Joseph Banks, who sought new species in the south seas on the first voyage of Captain Cook (1768-71), and Jean Lamarck, who made the study of invertebrates a respectable branch of zoology (1801).

We choose to honor Darwin, therefore, by showcasing the tradition out of which he himself evolved.  Fortunately, for exhibition purposes, the works we have chosen to display are not only important intellectually, but are also some of the most beautiful books ever published.  “There is gradeur in this view of life,” Darwin remarked in the last sentence of the Origin of Species.  We hope our exhibition captures some of the grandeur, and of Darwin’s great achievement.

I also had the pleasure of listening to Lyanda Haupt’s lecture on “Darwin’s Evolution as Naturalist: A Bird’s-eye View”, and have subsequently purchased and have begun to read her book, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent, that the lecture was based on.  It has been a good read so far…   Luckily for you there are two remaining lectures in the series honoring Darwin, on October 29th and December 3rd.  To learn more about these lectures visit Linda Hall’s Darwin Lecture Series site.

So, as we draw near to the anniversary of the publication of our Origins, take a few minutes and tour the grand exhibit at Linda Hall and please inspire your students to do the same.




Author: Eric Kessler

I am a high school teacher in the Blue Valley School District who has taught a Bioscience Research course at the district's Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) since 2010. Previous to this teaching gig I was at Blue Valley North High School where I taught freshman Biology and Honors Biology, Field Biology, Zoology, and AP Biology for the past 18 years.