Darwin: 150 Years of Evolutionary Thinking

In 2009 the Yale Peabody Museum commemorates the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species with a new original exhibition.


Darwin’s writings inspired a revolution in our understanding of the natural world; his ideas are as relevant today as they were in 1859. The Museum’s exhibition will place Darwin in the context of his times and explore how his ideas, and the concept of natural selection in particular, continue to support critical discoveries by scientists today.

Darwin’s insight — that small changes due to natural selection accumulate to profoundly transform how plants, animals, and other organisms look and function — in its time shattered the worldview of many. With archival material from the Peabody’s collections, the exhibition will show how two of Darwin’s contemporaries at Yale, James Dwight Dana and Othniel Charles Marsh, were influenced by his work, and how they in turn influenced Darwin.

The exhibition will showcase current research that is the legacy of Darwin’s discoveries. We now know that evolution can happen quickly, at rates on par with changes in the environment.

One example is the lowly Cane Toad, introduced to Australia in 1935 to control a pest insect. A failure, it overstayed its welcome, spreading across much of eastern Australia in the decades since. Rapid evolutionary change, including its longer legs, is contributing to the toad’s success in its new environment. Darwin: 150 Years of Evolutionary Thinking will show the immense relevance of Darwin’s discoveries, which today continue to inspire and illuminate.