Darwin: The Evolution Revolution opens on March 8, 2008

Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) proudly presents Darwin: The Evolution Revolution, a wide-ranging exhibition exploring the life and work of Charles Darwin, whose curiosity, observations and discoveries nearly 150 years ago forever changed our understanding of the origin and nature of all species, including our own. The exhibition is on display from Saturday, March 8 to Monday, August 4, 2008 in the ROM’s Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, located on Level 2B in the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. The ROM is the first Canadian venue to host Darwin during its international tour.

Organized by The American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with the ROM and the Museum of Science, Boston, The Field Museum, Chicago, and the Natural History Museum, London, Darwin is the most in-depth exhibition ever assembled on this highly original thinker and his revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection. The exhibition features the most complete collection of specimens, artifacts, manuscripts and memorabilia related to Charles Darwin (1809-1882), offering visitors an engaging insight into his extraordinary life and mind. The ROM has added an entertaining family-activity area to engage younger visitors with Darwin’s important discoveries and ideas. Also featured are fascinating live animals, dramatically bringing life to Darwin’s pioneering views.

Renowned for his groundbreaking 1859 volume, On the Origin of Species, Darwin is also acclaimed for his work as a botanist, geologist, and naturalist. In showcasing the evidence that led to Darwin’s realisation that all life has evolved according to natural laws, the exhibition also illustrates the impact of Darwin’s work to science and society in his day, and right up to the 21st century.

William Thorsell, the ROM’s Director and CEO, states, “The ROM is pleased to host Darwin: The Evolution Revolution. Darwin’s insights into evolution form the foundation of much of the work we do in natural history, yet it continues to provoke lively debate to this day. The collaboration of these respected institutions delivers a powerful exhibition that illuminates Charles Darwin as both a great scientist and a fascinating individual.”

Chris Darling, Senior Curator in the ROM’s Natural History department, is the curator of Darwin during its ROM engagement. Darling says “An exciting aspect of this exhibition is that it allows us to take the same voyage of discovery as Darwin. Visitors are presented with the evidence that led Darwin to realize that all life on Earth evolves from common ancestors over millions of years guided by the process of natural selection. We are at Darwin’s side as he ponders geology, observes living plants and animals and collects fossils and other specimens during his historic voyage on the Beagle. We are also there when he returns home to carefully develop and refine his ideas as he struggles with issues of family, ill health and insecurity. Evolution is both intelligible and relevant to everybody. Darwin, the exhibition, illuminates Darwin, the man and scientist, in a vividly accessible manner.”

Family Activity Area

Visitors to Darwin at the ROM will enjoy an array of family-oriented programming in a large, dedicated area of the exhibition. Naturalists young and old can evoke the travels, discoveries, and studies of Darwin as a young man and an established scientist through a number of hands-on activities in three distinct areas: The Ship, The Island, and The Study. Stimulating activities, from knot-tying aboard the HMS Beagle to bug sorting in Darwin’s study, are supervised by ROM facilitators. Touchable real specimens, realistic film projections and exciting wearable costumes enhance the Darwin experience for all, as do the numerous live animals encountered through the exhibition.

The Exhibition

Darwin: The Evolution Revolution comprises nine enlightening sections. The Introduction conveys the awe and wonder that Darwin found in nature throughout his career. Visitors are greeted by a large aquarium of live tortoises while being introduced to Darwin’s character, most notably the naturalist’s passion with which he examined the world around him. Highlighted in this section is Darwin’s original magnifying glass. This instrument serves as an iconic object, exemplifying the simple tools and approaches that Darwin used during his career. Throughout the exhibition, various magnifying glasses remind visitors of the scientist’s patience and the importance of observation in science.

The World Before Darwin illustrates the state of scientific knowledge prior to Darwin’s work. Advanced thinkers of the 18th century speculated about evolution but did not understand how it may have worked. Natural scientists, and most of England, were aligned to the Church’s biblical story of creation. By 1800, naturalists had collections, but species’ classification criteria were haphazard at best, with no concept of they were genealogically related. The prevailing view held that plant and animal species had been created once, by God, and remained unchanged from the time of origin. Humans were not seen as an animal species but were unique and created in God’s image. As many scientists were also clergymen, studying nature (God’s works) was comparable to studying the Bible (God’s word).

Early Life depicts Darwin’s early years and his influences, especially his grandfathers, Josiah Wedgwood (of Wedgwood china) and Erasmus Darwin, a purveyor of his own evolution concepts. Charles Darwin spent his early years at Shrewsbury boarding school where he was an indifferent student. However, young Charles also spent hours collecting beetles and reading science books. Although his father was unimpressed by his son’s achievements, purportedly telling him, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family”, upon reaching Cambridge University, Darwin was acknowledged by elite academics who recognized his true talent for natural history. Among this section’s highlights are family portraits and his letters home from school.

Voyage of the Beagle traces Darwin’s five-year voyage (1831–1836) on the HMS Beagle down the coast of South America, to the Galapágos Islands and beyond, a journey which Darwin called the most pivotal event in his life and one that confirmed his career as a naturalist. Visitors experience the extraordinary wonders, including live specimens such as iguanas and frogs, encountered by the young and adventurous Darwin. This section demonstrates the three patterns observed by Darwin during his journey that convinced him that species are not absolute: the replacement of species through time; the geographic replacement of one species by another down the South American coast; and the micro-geographic replacement of different varieties on different islands in the Galapágos. Prominently featured in this section is the actual invitation letter to serve as HMS Beagle's naturalist, from Darwin’s mentor, J.S. Henslow. Other personal items are also showcased here, including his pistol and his Bible, the first time that these items have been together since the Beagle’s voyage. Another notable feature is the first-ever gathering of many specimens collected by Darwin, including beetles, butterflies, moths, bugs and various fossils.

The exhibition’s next section, An Ordinary Man, presents an 8-minute video entitled The Life and Work of Charles Darwin, which includes an examination of the times into which he was born. Shot on location at Down House, Darwin’s longtime home, the video, viewed in a dedicated theatre, also highlights Darwin’s influences on science, politics and society and is narrated by Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson.

In the London section, visitors learn about Darwin’s life and career in the five years he spent in that city following his naval expedition. During this time, the specimens Darwin collected during his voyage were studied by other notable scientists and his reputation grew. By studying the fossils, he came to understand that living species are related to extinct ones by descent. The importance of variation among individuals was noted and Darwin came to realise that because more are born than can survive in the natural world natural selection is the mechanism of evolution. Variation, inherited characteristics, and selective survival equal adaptation. Also examined in this section is Darwin’s marriage to his cousin Emma Wedgwood in 1839 and the birth of their first two (of ten) children, William and Annie. Comparing his children to “Jenny”, an orangutan they often visited in Regents Park Zoo, Darwin developed the idea that humans, like all species, are the products of evolution. Darwin’s correspondence with his wife, and his 1842 "Abstract” on natural selection are among the highlights of this section.

Darwin’s life at his home, where he lived from 1842 until his death in 1882, comprises the significant section, Down House. Here, it is demonstrated that Darwin knew that his revolutionary ideas would shake British society to its core and that he was quite hesitant to publish what he had written. In fact, Darwin kept his “Essay” secret for nearly two decades while he continued to research and study. This section also touches on the death of their daughter, Annie in 1851, which devastated Darwin and his wife, and shook what remained of his religious beliefs. Published in 1859, his pioneering tome On the Origin of Species was an instant bestseller and prompted vigorous public debate. In it, Darwin brought together the considerable evidence of life’s diversity, animal and plant domestication, and the geologic and fossil record, supporting his theory of evolution. Darwin’s death and his burial at Westminster Abbey are also featured in this section. A video, Darwin, Science and Faith, features contemporary scientists and theologians discussing why Darwin’s discoveries are important to modern biology and science, and touches on their personal philosophies and beliefs. A remarkable feature of this section is a projected virtual stroll through the grounds of Down House, especially the Sandwalk, where Darwin spent much time observing and thinking. Also integral to this section is a detailed reconstruction of part of Darwin’s study at Down House, with his actual desk in place. This display features numerous personal possessions, including Darwin’s microscope.

In Evolution and Natural Selection, it is clearly demonstrated that science through time has overwhelmingly supported the work of Charles Darwin. Various media, including a video entitled, aptly, Natural Selection, explain evolution and natural selection, the key components of Darwin’s theory. The section includes videos, simulations and interactive components while numerous specimens vividly demonstrate the fact of evolution.

The exhibition’s final section, Darwin’s Legacy, explores the legacy of Charles Darwin and the relevance of his work today. Here, an audio installation is heard featuring a selection of Darwin’s writings and letters, read by his great-great-grandson. From On the Origin of Species, Randal Keynes reads, “There is a grandeur in this view of life…endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.” Live orchids, evocative of the astounding flower first encountered by Darwin in Madagascar in 1862, lend beauty to this final section of the exhibition.

Other Information

Darwin: The Evolution Revolution is mounted in cooperation with English Heritage, the organisation that administers Down House, Darwin’s home; the Natural History Museum, London; Cambridge University, one of the primary repositories of Darwin’s writings; and some of Darwin’s living descendants. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Niles Eldredge, a palaeontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where the exhibition opened in late 2005, before traveling to the Museum of Science in Boston. The exhibition arrives at the ROM following its engagement at The Field Museum in Chicago. Darwin will be displayed at the Natural History Museum in London from October 2008 to March 2009, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

A dedicated Darwin Shop is located within the exhibition where merchandise inspired by the man and his work is available for purchase. Throughout its engagement, docents from the ROM’s Department of Museum Volunteers (DMV) offer guided tours of the exhibition at regularly scheduled times.

In conjunction with the ROM’s engagement of Darwin, ROMtravel offers a trip to Ecuador and Darwin's Galapágos from February 4 to 18, 2008. The Galapágos Archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage site boasting incredible wildlife found nowhere else on earth. Additional information is available at 416.586.8034 or travel@rom.on.ca or www.rom.on.ca/programs/rom_travel/index.php

Darwin-inspired ROMLife programming is available through the exhibition’s engagement. Information on the Lunch ‘N’ Learn series with ROM curator Chris Darling; the diverse film series, including the 1960 classic Inherit the Wind (Spencer Tracy, Fredric March directed by Stanley Kramer), an installment of the popular Connecting Singles series, entitled Darwin on Dating, and more is available at http://www.rom.on.ca/programs/lectures/index.php or by phone at 416.586.5797.

This year’s ROM March Break activities are numerous, far-ranging and found throughout the entirety of the Museum from Saturday, March 8 through Sunday, March 16. Many events complement the ROM’s Darwin engagement while others celebrate the return of the dinosaurs and a number of the ROM’s other galleries and collections. Stay tuned for specific programming information.

ROMkids also features Darwin-themed courses and activities. Information on Saturday Morning Club (with courses such as Crossing the Continents and Web of Life), March Break Camp and Summer Club may be obtained by phoning 416.586.5797 or at www.rom.on.ca/schools/rom_kids/index.php

School Visits are offered for Darwin at both the elementary and secondary levels. The elementary program features an hour-long facilitated visit to the exhibition. The secondary program is a 90 minute program led by a Museum teacher, beginning with views of the natural world before Darwin, and investigating the revolutionary observations and ideas which led to Darwin’s ground-breaking explanation of the diversity of life on Earth. For information on School Visits, visit www.rom.on.ca/schools or phone 416.586.5801.

ROM members already know that the best way to experience the ROM is through Membership. A ROM Individual or Family membership is great value and delivers numerous benefits, including free general admission, newsletters, events, previews, discounts in ROM stores and on programs, and much more. A members’ event to highlight Darwin and the completed galleries of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is scheduled for April 4 – 5, 2008. For additional information or to purchase a membership, visit
www.rom.on.ca/members/ or call 416.586.5700.

Admission to Darwin is included in general museum admission: Adults: $20; Students and Seniors with ID: $17; Children (5 to 14 years) $14; Children 4 & under are free. Half price admission prices apply on Friday nights from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm: Adults: $10; Students and Seniors with ID: $8.50; Children: $7. Groups of ten or more adults may call Mirvish Productions at 416.593.4142 or toll free at 1.800.724.6420 or e-mail grouptours@rom.on.ca for information on special rates and private guided tours.

 

DARWIN: THE EVOLUTION REVOLUTION


March 8 to August 4, 2008

 

Darwin: The Evolution Revolution

is organized by

American Museum of Natural History, New York

in collaboration with

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Museum of Science, Boston

The Field Museum, Chicago

Natural History Museum, London