History of Medicine

Darwin's in the Hospital

An exhibition at University College Hospital, London, on Darwin’s life and work. Our exhibition commemorated the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

On this page, you’ll find downloadable versions of the exhibition panels and our accompanying brochure. You’ll also find a podcast from the three historians behind the exhibition.

downloading Darwin exhibition pdfs, podcasts and brochure

Panel - Evolution and Medicine

exhibit downloads
exhibition panels (pdf)
exhibition brochure (pdf)


podcast and audio tour

Darwin podcast here logo smallest

Download the exhibition panels and listen to the podcasts which discuss what's going on in each panel. The podcasts are in .mp3 format, and so are compatible with almost all Personal Music Players, including iPod. Internet Explorer users can right-click on each episode, and choose "Save Target As..." to download a copy of the episode to their preferred device.

  • Podcast full version: 38 mins (listen)
  • Podcast introduction: 2 mins (listen)
  • Podcast panel 1: 3 mins (listen)
  • Podcast panels 2-4: 7.46 mins (listen)
  • Podcast panels 5-7: 7.53 mins (listen)
  • Podcast panels 8-10: 9.31 mins (listen)
  • Podcast panels 11-13: 7.46 mins (listen)

Installing Darwin

Mounting the exhibition (pdf)

Reading Darwin

Modern readers often find Darwin’s books tough going. No surprise. These were technical works aimed mostly at specialists. Many editions of his most famous books are available. Penguin Classics has created a series for the ‘big four,’ and these are widely available.

  • Voyage of the Beagle, 1839
  • On the Origin of Species, 1859
  • The Descent of Man, 1871
  • The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872

Darwin did not publish an autobiography, but his family later published some autobiographical material Darwin wrote for them. These are available, too.

  • Autobiographies. Charles Darwin (2002). Michael Neve and Sharon Messenger, editors.

To see how Darwin found important ideas in the most commonplace subjects, read his book about worms and their impact on the Earth over long spans of geological time. Some of this research was done in his back garden at Down House with the assistance of his children.

  • On the Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, 1881

Darwin’s Holiday Reading

In May 1859, after finishing the Origin of Species, Darwin went away to Moor Park to relax and took with him the following books from Mudie's Circulating Library.

  • Anthony Trollope 's The Bertrams
  • Charles Kingsley 's Yeast
  • George Eliot 's Adam Bede
  • Edward Bulwer Lytton 's The Caxtons
  • Dinah Maria Mulock Craik's Agatha's Husband

A five Guinea subscription to this lending library provided Darwin with a parcel of up to 6 books (fiction and non-fiction) every month. Although a member of the London Library much of Darwin's Reading came from Mudie's Library.

Darwin biographies

  • Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: Voyaging, Vol. 1 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995) and Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, Vol. 2 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002)Browne’s 2-volume biography is certainly the best work in a generation. It is essential reading for anyone with serious interests in Darwin.
  • Sandra Herbert, Charles Darwin Geologist (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005) Focuses on Darwin’s evolution as a scientist, his early training and influences, and his lifelong study of subjects other than biological evolution.
  • Edna Healey, Emma Darwin. The Wife of a Seminal Scientist (London: Headline, 2001) and Randal Keynes, Annie’s Box. Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution (London: Fourth Estate, 2001) Two excellent biographies focusing on Darwin’s family. They help with understanding Darwin as a person living his life in real time: joy, sorrow, love, and sadness.
  • Michael Ruse, Charles Darwin (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008) and Charles Aydon, A Brief Guide to Charles Darwin (London: Robinson, 2008) For beginners. These are excellent introductions to Darwin’s thinking (Ruse) and life (Aydon) by gifted writers.

Darwin’s science

For us, Steve Jones is the first port-of-call for anyone wanting to know what Darwin’s work means to scientists today.

  • Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England
  • Almost Like a Whale: The 'Origin of Species' Updated
  • Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise

Another scientist who spent their career thinking about Darwin and his scientific world was Stephen Jay Gould, who died in 2002. He was a gifted writer, and his collections of essays offer accessible starting points into his ideas.

  • I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History
  • Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms
  • Dinosaur in a Haystack

Some books about evolution that have recently inspired us include:

  • Jerry Coyne. 2009. Why Evolution is True. ISBN: 0199230846
  • Nick Lane. 2009. Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. 1861978480
  • Neil Shubin. 2009. Your Inner Fish: The Amazing Discovery of Our 375-Million-Year-Old Ancestor. 0141027584
  • Mark Pallen and Rough Guides. 2009. The Rough Guide to Evolution. 1858289467
  • Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu and Patrick Gries. 2007. Evolution in Action: Natural History through Spectacular Skeletons. 0500513708
  • Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis (editors). 2009. Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. 067403175X
  • Jared Diamond. 2006. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. 0140279512

Some history of science books about Darwin’s time that have recently inspired us include:

  • Michael Ruse. 2004. Can a Darwinian be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion. 0521637163
  • James Secord. 2001. Victorian Sensation : The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. 0521637163
  • Richard Keynes. 2002. Fossils, Finches and Fuegians.
  • Bernard Lightman. 2007. Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences. B001XQSIX6
  • Adrian Desmond and James Moore. 2009. Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins. 1846140358
  • Michael Boulter. 2009. Darwin's Garden. 1845299221
  • John van Wyhe. 2008. Charles Darwin: The Story of the Man and His Theories of Evolution. 0233002510

Readers beware. there seems to be no end of writers claiming to be the true heir of Darwin’s scientific legacy. When you read any book about modern discoveries and their importance, we encourage you to read with a scientist’s mind. Think about the ideas, the evidence, and the ways you might test their conclusions. Darwin’s ideas are not sacred. They were a scientist’s work, suitable for judging by scientific standards and open to revision. What should matter is the evidence for a theory or interpretation, not whether or not Darwin thought that way, too. We best respect Darwin’s legacy by upholding the drive to improve our understanding of the world around us. That’s what Darwin did himself, and it’s what he encouraged those around him to do.

Researching Darwin

Some excellent research resources for Darwin are available online.

  • The Complete Works of Charles Darwin OnlineAn exhaustive collection of Darwin’s published texts, with various editions, scanned from originals. Also an enormous catalogue of related papers by Darwin and those associated with the sciences he studied.
  • Darwin Correspondence ProjectOn-line version of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, containing all known correspondence sent by Darwin, together with scholarly notes to help with the interpretation. A good search engine helps with finding topics quickly.
  • Darwin CountryFocuses on Darwin’s life before his voyage on HMS Beagle, especially in his boyhood hometown of Shrewsbury.
  • The Victorian WebA good, but quirky, source for placing Darwin in his century.

And some recent specials by science magazines, such as Nature. The BBC has produced a variety of programmes about Darwin and about current evolutionary biology.

Visiting Darwin

  • Down House (Darwin family home managed by English Heritage)

Many places claim a piece of Darwin’s history:

Many other places invite you to see some other fragment of his life. You can follow in Darwin’s footsteps much easier. Just adopt the spirit of a naturalist. Start observing the world around you: what you see, hear, touch, and smell. Record your observations. Draw or photograph. Ask questions about similarities and differences. Compare what changes and what stays the same. This can be done from a window, in a garden, or at a local park.

Do the same next time you visit a natural history museum, botanic garden, zoo, or aquarium. Don’t just look and play. Think like a scientist. Compare. Record. Draw. Investigate.

When you feel that spark of excitement that comes with exploration and discovery, you’ll be following in Darwin’s footsteps.

Darwin in 2009

Find out all the latest events surrounding Darwin in 2009. Watch out for the events surrounding the 250 anniversary of the Origin of Species in November 2009. More information can be found on the Darwin200 website.

Further Study

AS-level and A-level qualification. If students are inspired to learn more about history of science and medicine, they can follow several degree paths in schools. There are AS-level and A-level qualifications in “Science and Society”. Also consult the AQA.

Many UK universities offer undergraduate courses in history of science and medicine. UCL, and several others, also offer whole undergraduate degrees. For more information, visit UCL admissions.

Taught masters degrees are offered, too. These are open both to recent graduates and to those wanting to return to study after many years.

About Our Exhibition


  • Dr Carole Reeves, UCL Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London
  • Dr Joe Cain, Science and Technology Studies, University College London

Sponsors and thanks

Our exhibition was made possible only through the generosity of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. No NHS funds have been used in this project.

Image credits

Images for this exhibition come from:

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