Darwin Correspondence project receives Queen's Anniversary Prize

November 22, 2002

Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 22, 2002 -- The Darwin Correspondence Project, based at Cambridge University and directed by Virginia Tech botany professor Duncan Porter, has received a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

The prize recognizes and rewards the outstanding contribution that universities and colleges in the United Kingdom make to the intellectual, economic, cultural, and social life of the nation. "It is a great honor to have won this prestigious prize," Porter said. "I salute the project staff for having made it possible."

The Darwin Correspondence Project involves transcribing, editing, and publishing more than 14,500 letters written and received by Charles Darwin throughout his life. The project has published 12 of a projected 32-volume set of Darwin's letters, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Volume 13 will be published next month.

The letters provide a good historical view of the way the scientist's ideas took shape as well as the years he spent traveling on HMS Beagle and the years leading up to his Origin of Species. That book outlined Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and started a debate over its validity.

Darwin exchanged letters not only with distinguished scientists, but also with people of all walks of life who could help him with his research -- gardeners, army officers, fur trappers, among many others. The Darwin Correspondence Project, founded in 1974 by Frederick Burkhardt, retired president of the American Council of Learned Societies, and the late Sydney Smith of the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University, is housed at Cambridge University, whose library has 9,000 of the approximately 15,000 known Darwin letters. Cambridge also houses the collections of plants, fish, and geological specimens that Darwin shipped back from the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere on the Beagle voyage. Porter was the first to identify many of the plants, which were important in Darwin's development of his theory of evolution.

Porter spends about three months each summer at Cambridge. Prior to becoming project director, Porter served from 1991 until 1997 as senior editor. In this capacity, he helped edit volumes eight through 10 of the Correspondence. Now, as director of the correspondence project, he has done work ranging from fund raising to researching and writing preliminary footnotes for the letters. Along with Burkhardt, general editor, Porter also approves the finished volumes.

The project is jointly managed by the American Council of Learned Societies and Cambridge University Library. In addition to the Cambridge office, which has eight editorial and production staff, there are offices at Virginia Tech, Cornell University, and Bennington, Vt., where Burkhardt works with three volunteers.

The Darwin Correspondence Project received the first Modern Language Association of America Morton N. Cohen Award for a Distinguished Edition of Letters in 1991.

The project has been supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Isaac Newton Trust, the Pilgrim Trust, the Natural Environment Research Council, the British Ecological Society, and the Stifterverband fur die Duetsche Wissenschaft. The Jephcott Charitable Trust, the Wilkinson Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Arts and Humanities Research Board also have supported work to improve the on-line version of the calendar to the correspondence.

In addition to his work with the correspondence project, Porter is co-editor, with Peter Graham, professor of English at Virginia Tech, of the book The Portable Darwin.
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Researcher: Duncan Porter, 540-231-6768 duporter@vt.edu

PR CONTACT: Sally Harris 540-231-6759 slharris@vt.edu

Virginia Tech

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