The Darwin Industry

During the 1970s and 1980s, the historical studies of Darwin were intensified and professionalised. The new science historians who had placed Darwin at the centre of their work became known as “The Darwin Industry”. In a clearly formulated manner, they broke the scientific monopoly by demanding to write the story of Darwin.

The key was solid, historical source studies that could document that the biologists who wanted to tell a story about Darwin as a modern scientist were mistaken. From a series of meticulous studies of Darwin’s extensive correspondence and scientific notebooks, which were primarily located at the university library at Cambridge, a new image of Darwin arose.

One example is the discussion about the influence of Thomas Malthus in the development of Darwin’s theory. Malthus’ theory was originally a financial theory concerning overpopulation. In the 1960s, many biologists would not accept that a non-scientific theory should have had a significant influence on the development of the central idea of the theory of evolution concerning natural selection. However, now science historians could prove that Darwin himself quite openly wrote about this influence.

The new Darwin studies which focused on how Darwin developed his theory showed that there was no point in trying to preserve a pure image of natural science independent from unscientific sources. Thus, the work with case studies by the Darwin Industry confirmed a new image of science, reliant on the surrounding world, as well as intellectual, cultural, social and political circumstances.

Furthermore, the source studies in many ways changed the idea of how Darwin had developed his theory. It had not suddenly come to him on the Galápagos Islands. It was not a result of Darwin gathering a lot of material and basing his overall theory on that either. His starting point was not artificial selection through which he discovered an analogy in nature which he called natural selection either. The situation was a completely different one. Darwin was actually looking for a theory concerning reproduction, went through a lot of literature on the breeding of livestock and hereafter read Malthus’ theory. Here, he discovered that reproduction and the overproduction of the species was the key to the question of the origin of the species. Only subsequently, did natural selection become important and seen as a possible analogy to understanding the fundamental mechanisms of the development of nature which was the driving force of the evolution.

Peter C. Kjærgaard

Extended knowledge

Here you can read more about the Darwin Industry (in English; requires special access for instance from the library computers)