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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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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 29 March 2020

An Amphibious Being

An Amphibious Being

Chapter:
(p.33) 2 An Amphibious Being
Source:
Darwin's Evolving Identity
Author(s):

Alistair Sponsel

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226523255.003.0003

This chapter uses the geologist Charles Lyell’s concept of an “amphibious being” (introduced in chapter 1) to illustrate why Darwin’s experience on a maritime surveying voyage had the potential to yield important theoretical insights in geology. Sponsel argues that during the Beagle voyage Darwin gained a familiarity with the seafloor that was unprecedented among naturalists of his day. The ship’s hydrographers furnished him with techniques for visualizing underwater topography and for sampling the ocean floor. This in turn allowed Darwin’s geological work on dry land to involve “amphibious” comparisons between terrestrial and submarine processes. Working with surveyors helped Darwin to develop a scientific approach resembling that of Alexander von Humboldt, and Sponsel argues that Darwin’s so-called Humboldtian Science (a term made famous by the historian Susan Faye Cannon) should be seen as a consequence of his first-hand familiarity with surveying as well has his interest in Humboldt’s writings. The chapter emphasizes Darwin’s study of zoophytes (colonial marine invertebrates) in the southern Atlantic Ocean along the shore of South America and argues that his early ambition as a naturalist was to study the zoology of corals rather than the geology of coral reefs.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, hydrography, HMS Beagle, sounding, surveying, Humboldtian science, zoophytes, corals, zoology, Susan Faye Cannon, comparative method

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