'The collection of Darwin's letters opens a window on Victorian life'

September 15, 2006

Jim Secord relishes the prospect of his role at the Darwin Correspondence Project, which manages 15,000 letters.

An enduring fascination with Charles Darwin that began with a postgraduate study of Darwin's interest in pigeon fancying has led Jim Secord, a Cambridge University history and philosophy of science professor, to what might be his dream job.

He has been appointed director of the Darwin Correspondence Project, a research initiative responsible for managing and publishing a collection of 15,000 letters written by and to Darwin that has been compiled from around the world.

His initial three-year secondment to the project comes at a pivotal point in its development. It has just published the 15th volume of what will eventually be a 30-volume edition of all known letters. There are also plans to make the material more widely accessible. More than 2,000 letters are already freely available online.

Professor Secord said he was interested in the collection because it not only revealed new biographical details about Darwin but covered a range of subjects that opened a "window on Victorian life".

The appointment of Professor Secord, an American who has held an academic post at Cambridge since 1992, reflects the transatlantic nature of the project. The main research team is based at Cambridge University Library, which holds the largest collection of Darwin manuscripts. But other researchers are based in the US.

He said his appointment came as a pleasant surprise as most of his work has concentrated on the history of science before On the Origin of Species was published.

Details: http:///www.darwinproject.ac.uk

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