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Title: Early Darwinian commemoration in Britain, 1882-1914
Author: Fisher, Carl Francis
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 1263
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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Abstract:
This dissertation recounts the commemoration of Charles Darwin in Britain from his death in 1882 to his birth centenary in 1909. As a broadly chronological and episodic history, individual memorials are considered in themselves, in relation to others, and in their national and local contexts. In this way, they are shown to have been informed by contemporary scientific and wider cultural developments, previous memorialisations, and – consonant with a more recent historiographical turn to ‘place’ – local imperatives alongside those arising further afield. Consequently, memorialisers and observers are shown to have acted not merely as unreflective publicists or passive consumers, but as interpreters of Darwin’s memory who brought their own concerns to his commemoration. Darwin’s funeral, at Westminster Abbey, was widely accepted as a national endorsement of his social respectability, and, by extension, that of a burgeoning scientific profession which organised it. Further to this first posthumous elevation, and appropriation, of Darwin, subsequent presentations were informed by contemporary literary developments, and particularly the sudden decline in the posthumous reputation of Thomas Carlyle, which reflected changing attitudes to long-established ‘heroic’ tradition. As such, the production, reception and mobilisation of Darwinian biography (primarily his Life and Letters and its subsequent editions and sequels) recognised these recent literary concerns and further contributed to Darwin’s elevation as a personal and scientific exemplar. The ways in which Darwin’s reputation was elaborated and used are recovered at a range of sites of Darwinian significance, most notably Edinburgh, Cambridge, Shrewsbury, Oxford and London. Encompassing metropolitan, provincial, institutional and civic commemoration, accompanying periodical reportage, commentary and memorialisation is also considered. Common to the majority of these productions, Darwin’s theory of natural selection was criticised, contradicted or ignored. Nevertheless, the esteem in which the celebrated naturalist was held was to grow in inverse proportion to the reputation of his famous theory. Against this background, an extended memorial season peaked in the summer of 1909 at the Darwin Celebration at the University of Cambridge. That grandiose occasion echoed and developed themes which were well recorded in preceding commemorations, both ceremonially and in the periodical press. Consequently, man and work were brought into closer relation with a widely-expressed interest in the origins of his apparently exceptional abilities and character. The great naturalist was celebrated as a hereditary, as well as a moral and intellectual, exemplar. This development was supported by the new findings of Mendelian biology and Darwin’s memorial association with advancing eugenic activism. For the first time attending to his early ‘afterlife’ in Britain, this account traces the interaction of Darwin’s commemoration not only with the emerging biological sciences, but also with wider preoccupations concerning secularisation, democratisation and reform across the decades either side of the turn of the twentieth century. Ultimately, Darwin’s early memorialisation can be apprehended as a scientific activity in itself, contributing to professional, disciplinary and theoretical developments in the biological sciences.
Supervisor: Secord, James Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.744333  DOI:
Keywords: Darwin ; Commemoration ; Memorialisation ; Celebration
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