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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006, 00:48 GMT 01:48 UK
Charles Darwin's works go online
Darwin in 1881 (Darwin, F. and Seward, A. C. eds. 1903 - Cam Uni)
His theory on evolution has influenced many science disciplines
The complete works of one of history's greatest scientists, Charles Darwin, are being published online.

The project run by Cambridge University has digitised some 50,000 pages of text and 40,000 images of original publications - all of it searchable.

Surfers can even access downloadable audio files to use on MP3 players.

The resource is aimed at serious scholars, but can be used by anyone with an interest in Darwin and his theory on the evolution of life.

"The idea is to make these important works as accessible as possible; some people can only get at Darwin that way," said Dr John van Wyhe, the project's director.

One big collection

Dr van Wyhe has spent the past four years searching the globe for copies of Darwin's own materials, and works written about the naturalist and his breakthrough ideas on natural selection.

The historian said he was inspired to build the library at darwin-online.org.uk when his own efforts to study Darwin while at university in Asia were frustrated.

Galapagos finches from Darwin, C. R. ed. 1839 (Cam Uni)
Images as well as texts are available online
"I wrote to lots of people all over the world to get hold of the texts for the project and I got a really positive reaction because they all liked the idea of there being one big collection," he told BBC News.

Darwin Online features many newly transcribed or never-before-published manuscripts written by the great man.

These include a remarkable field notebook from his famous Beagle voyage to the Galapagos Islands, where detailed observations of the wildlife would later forge his scientific arguments.

Free use

The real artefact was stolen in the 1980s and is still missing, but the text has been transcribed from a microfilm copy made two decades earlier.

"It is astonishing to see the notebook that Darwin had in his pocket as he walked around the Galapagos - the scribbled notes that he took as he clambered over the lava," said Randal Keynes, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.

"If people can read it on the web and they learn that it was stolen then I think there is more chance that this very important piece of national heritage is recovered," he told BBC News.

The Beagle (London: John Murray - Cam Uni)
Darwin travelled to the Galapagos in The Beagle
Other texts appearing online for the first time include the first editions of the Journal Of Researches (1839), The Descent Of Man (1871), The Zoology Of The Voyage Of HMS Beagle (1838-43) and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the Origin Of Species, the pivotal tome that elucidated his thoughts on evolution.

There is no charge to use the website. Most texts can be viewed either as colour originals or as fully formatted electronic transcriptions. There are also German, Danish and Russian editions.

Users can also peruse more than 150 supplementary texts, ranging from reference works to contemporary reviews of Darwin's books, obituaries and recollections.

At the moment the site contains about 50% of the materials that will be provided by 2009, the bicentenary of the naturalist's birth.

"The family has always wanted Darwin's papers and manuscripts available to anyone who wants to read them. That everyone around the world can now see them on the web is simply fantastic," said Mr Keynes.

Hear about the project to put Darwin's work online

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21 Jul 06 |  Science/Nature
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19 Jul 06 |  South West Wales
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24 Sep 02 |  Science/Nature
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