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Society for the History of Natural History


Darwin, l’original exhibition at the Paris Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie

Darwin, l’original exhibition at the Paris Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie

The Paris Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, in collaboration with the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, is hosting the exhibition Darwin, l’original [Darwin, the original] until 31 July 2016.

The exhibition is the result of two years of work by Commissioner Eric Lapie. It focuses on Charles Darwin’s life and highlights the extraordinary personal characteristics that made it possible for him to establish the theory of the evolution for natural selection, a theory that changed the existing world view of the 19th century and that, almost two centuries later, continues to be the foundation of modern biology.

The 1,000m2 exhibition is arranged chronologically within two big rooms. Both spaces are decorated by enormous models of plants and animals, placed inside naturalistic beautiful forests and leafy jungles. The exhibited objects are accompanied with explanatory texts in French, English and Italian. It is also possible to interact with multimedia devices, take part in pedagogic games and see explanatory videos.

Blog Darwin DSC_0561 (5)Upon entering, we meet a model of the HMS Beagle, accompanied by a text of Darwin’s diary at the foot of the ship. Next to the ship are maps of the expedition around the world and of some of the places Darwin visited during the journey. Darwin’s birth place is evoked. His family customs and his habits of work are represented through dioramas. Family photos illustrate Darwin’s world at the time of the publication of the Origin of species. Jasperware, the bicolored porcelain invented by Darwin’s uncle Josiah Wedgwood, is exhibited in a store window. On a wall, a chronological panel of the history of Great Britain is included, which allows us to contextualize Darwin’s life.

The exhibition then moves on to the theory of evolution. Maps of South America signpost where Darwin observed the animals and fossils that later led him to his theory on natural selection. These include barnacles and worms, some of which can be observed alive. There are some of Darwin’s notebooks, as well as copies of some of his publications.  One of the videos you can watch shows the Darwin-Wallace joint presentation of their theories of evolution by natural selection in the Linnean Society of London on 1 July 1858. The end of the section offers an analysis of the repercussions of the Darwinian theory in the present world.

Blog DarwinOn the occasion of the event, the publishing house Editions de La Martinière, under the direction of Guillaume Lecointre and Patrick Tort, has published in French, the exhibition’s official catalogue entitled Le monde de Darwin [The world of Darwin]. Bruno Maquart wrote the prologue. In the chapter “Permanences d’une Révolution”, Lecointre and Tort write that the ambition of the exhibition Darwin l’original is to offer a scientific interpretation of the Darwinian theory in our time of big ideological fights, and to show the continuing importance of Darwin’s questions. Both authors hold that Darwin’s ideas still suffer from the same objections that arose upon the publication of the Origin of species. In their opinion, these objections emanate from the endurance of creationism, which has adapted to different social emergencies and to different scientific achievements and that resurfaces regularly with virulence.

I personally want to emphasize the importance of this exhibition, because it demonstrates continuity in the diffusion and the teaching of Darwin’s life and thoughts. In my opinion, every day science explains a little better how the world is continuously changing and how different species are evolving. These interpretations are based on the Darwinian theory, and they rely on the permanent study of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. Likewise, the teaching of Darwinian ideas is necessary for new generations to understand and to defend natural selection, the common origin of all living beings that inhabit the Earth, including Homo sapiens, and the need for solidarity in the world, as it was conceived by Charles Darwin.

Margarita Hernández-Laille
Dra. on Philosophy and Sciences in Education

Spanish Representative of SHNH – Society for the History of Natural History