27 September 2012, Singapore – The complete works of the great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace will be made freely available online today on the Wallace Online website. This project was directed by historian Dr John van Wyhe from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Among the thousands of pages of writings, it includes the first announcement of the theory of evolution by natural selection. The Wallace Online project was made possible by an anonymous grant from an American donor.
Wallace and Darwin
Since the scientist's death 99 years ago, Wallace's complete publications have never been gathered together. The new website is unveiled in time for the centenary celebrations in 2013 that mark the anniversary of Wallace's death in 1913.
Back in the 1850s, Wallace independently formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection during a fit of tropical fever. He later sent an outline of the theory – in one of the greatest ironies in history – to Charles Darwin. To avoid a priority dispute, papers by both men were read together at a London scientific meeting in July 1858. The event unleashed the Darwinian revolution whose shockwaves continue to this day.
Wallace has long been in the shadow of his more famous contemporary Charles Darwin. The compilation of this new website is timely and long overdue. It provides 28,000 pages of searchable historical documents and 22,000 images. They can now be seen free of charge by anyone around the globe at Wallace Online.
Wallace's contributions to biodiversity
Wallace spent four years as a collector in Brazil (1848-1853) and eight years in Southeast Asia (1854-1862). In addition to collecting an astonishing 125,000 specimens of insects and birds, Wallace proposed a sharp dividing line between the Asian and Australian animals in the archipelago. This line still bears his name today and is called The Wallace Line.
Dr van Wyhe, said: "Wallace was one of the most influential scientists in history. But until now, it has been impossible to see all of his writings. For the first time, this collection allows anyone to search through his writings about Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and see many of the birds and insects that he collected."
Dr van Wyhe holds a joint appointment as Senior Lecturer at NUS' Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of History, under Faculty of Science and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, respectively. He is also the founder and director of the award-winning Darwin Onlineat the University of Cambridge, UK.
EurekAlert. 2012. “Historic collection of naturalist Alfred Wallace goes online for the first time”. EurekAlert. Posted: September 27, 2012. Available online: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/nuos-hco092412.php