The Evolution of Darwin and the Great Debate

In 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species, introducing the world to the Theory of Evolution. A few months later, a contentious public debate was hosted at Oxford University Museum of Natural History to discuss Darwin's revolutionary ideas. Join historian Diana Preston as she whisks us back to June 1860 to reflect on the notorious events of the 'Great Debate'.


On 30 June 1860, in Oxford University's hot and crowded Museum of Natural History, crowds politely endured a rambling talk by a visiting New York academic 'On the Intellectual Development of Europe, with Reference to the Views of Mr. Darwin'. What they had really come to hear was not the lecture, but the subsequent debate about Charles Darwin's recent publication, On the Origin of Species. Newspapers reported the event to be as sensational as anticipated, with onlookers shouting and even fainting.

Biologist Thomas Huxley championed Darwin, whose absence from the event was likely a result of stress-induced illness. Huxley flamboyantly demolished the anti-evolutionary opinions of his opponent Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford. Meanwhile, Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, sat clutching his bible, regretting ever allowing Darwin to join him on the five-year voyage that spurred his theories.

Exactly 163 years later, and in the very same venue, historian Diana Preston will discuss the dramatic debate and the key events leading up to it; part of the subject of her new book, The Evolution of Charles Darwin: The Epic Voyage of the 'Beagle'.

This event is free, but please book your tickets in advance.


About the Speaker


Diana Preston is an Oxford-educated historian and author who has written books on a variety of pivotal moments in world history, and the personalities behind them. Her books include Before the Fallout: from Marie Curie to Hiroshima (winner of the Los Angeles Times Prize for Science and Technology) Willful Murder: The Sinking of the Lusitania (adapted into a full-length TV movie by the BBC, and American, French and German networks), A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in Spring 1915 that Changed the Nature of Warfare, Besieged in Peking: The 1900 Boxer Rebellion, and Eight Days at Yalta: How Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin Shaped the Post-War World. Her latest book, The Evolution of Charles Darwin: The Epic Voyage of the 'Beagle', and the research behind it, will inform this talk on the Great Debate.

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