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Darwin's Evolving IdentityAdventure, Ambition, and the Sin of Speculation$
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Alistair Sponsel

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226523118

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226523255.001.0001

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Darwin’s Opportunity

Darwin’s Opportunity

(p.15) 1 Darwin’s Opportunity
Darwin's Evolving Identity

Alistair Sponsel

University of Chicago Press

This chapter opens part 1 of the book, “Theorizing on the Move,” by examining three major contexts or sources for Darwin’s ambition as a prospective naturalist. First, it describes the existence of a well-known and consequential scientific puzzle to which he would eventually offer a new answer: how were coral reefs formed? This question was of great practical significance to the British Admiralty and individual navigators, and it had important theoretical implications for geologists who were interested in the history of the earth. Second, the chapter explains the purpose of the 1831-1836 Royal Navy voyage of HMS Beagle and of Darwin’s presence aboard, emphasizing the role of Francis Beaufort in directing hydrographic surveyors to study coral reef formation in the South Seas. Third, it describes the range of intellectual and practical experiences Darwin brought to the voyage by examining his training at Edinburgh University and the University of Cambridge. This discussion calls attention to his expertise in the sciences of marine zoology and (terrestrial) geology, his early exposure to the work of Alexander von Humboldt, and the mentorship Darwin received from Robert Grant, John Stevens Henslow, and Adam Sedgwick.

Keywords:   theory of the earth, coral reefs, Johann Reinhold Forster, Captain James Cook, Francis Beaufort, Robert FitzRoy, HMS Beagle, Robert Grant, Adam Sedgwick, John Stevens Henslow, shipwrecks

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