Darwin’s third anniversary

The greatest celebration of Darwin took place in 2009. It was the bicentennial of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Contrary to earlier celebrations, no groups or scientific institutions succeeded in monopolising the authorised story of Darwin. Instead we witnessed a varied selection of people with different scientific, cultural, regional, institutional, and religious interests who were all involved in the public celebration and at times condemnation of Darwin and evolution.

One of the reasons why the 2009 celebration became such a massive event on a global scale was due to the growing concern in academic circles and the educational environment of the advancement of creationism across the world and among all religious groups. It mobilised many to use Darwin as an icon to show the importance of scientific culture and free education for all, regardless of residence, cultural background, and religion. This gave rise to a concrete and until then unseen interest in Darwin. He was quite simply seen as a great way to ensure viewers, listeners, and readers and to make money.

Also the antievolutionist movements were active in 2009 with a series of campaigns which often linked Darwin and evolution to racism, fascism, Nazism, communism, and terrorism. Some groups even felt that Darwin was to blame for the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 2001.

2009 did not bring much to further the understanding of Darwin himself. The most interesting new contributions have been a more focused effort to place Darwin within a broader context. For instance, there has been a series of new studies of Darwin and visual culture which have given way to several new and exciting questions. Another field, which has shown great potential, is the study of how Darwin has been used and overtaken by different groups across borders, language, and culture.

Moreover, it appears that we are nearing an understanding of Darwin properly placed in a broader context.

Peter Kjærgaard