2013, International Year of the Wallace(?)

Image: James Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace Letters and Reminiscences, volume 1. Cassell and Company, 1916.

Image: James Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace Letters and Reminiscences, volume 1. Cassell and Company, 1916.

If 2009 ‘belonged’ to Charles Darwin then, if there’s any justice in the – natural – world, 2013 has to be ‘owned’ by Alfred Russel Wallace.

Who? (I hope I don’t hear you ask!). Alfred Russel Wallace OM, FRS (8 January, 1823 – 7 November, 1913) was a British (actually, Welsh-born, but ‘British’ is the term used by the English who want to appropriate another deserving national as their own – and with some justification since Wales is – currently – part of the United Kingdom…) naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. He was considered the 19th century’s leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the ‘father of biogeography’. Wallace was one of the leading evolutionary thinkers of the 19th century and made many other contributions to the development of evolutionary theory besides being co-discoverer of natural selection.

Aha, natural selection! We’ve heard of that, but surely that was solely due to one Mr Charles Darwin – English naturalist, etc? NO!!! Heretical British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace… co-discovered natural selection independently of his more well-known contemporary Charles Darwin. Although Darwin acknowledged Wallace’s contribution – and this duality is officially recognised by the Linnean Society’s Darwin-Wallace Medal, awarded to ‘persons who have made major advances in evolutionary biology’ – many texts that purport to deal with evolution are usually quite quiet on Wallace’s role in developing this concept.

By way of trying to redress some of the historic side-lining of this eminent Victorian, many celebrations, etc, are planned throughout this centenary of Wallace’s death. The Wallace Fund is trying to raise money for a life-size statue of Wallace for the Natural History Museum in London. The Biological Journal of the Linnean Society has produced an on-line ‘virtual issue’ devoted to papers by the great man himself or inspired by his work. For a short biography of ARW, I suggest Andrew Berry’s article in Biodiversity Science, which is the journal for Operation Wallacea,a network of academics from European and North American universities, who design and implement biodiversity and conservation management research programmes’. For more Wallaceana, why not visit Wallace Online, ‘the first complete edition of the writings of naturalist and co-founder of the theory of evolution Alfred Russel Wallace’?

 

[What is it with naturalists and big beards? Darwin had one too. What are they hiding? – P. Cuttings Junior]

 

[As yet unknown strains of yeast! Haven’t you been reading my elementary posts recently…? – P. Cuttings Senior]

 

 

About Nigel Chaffey

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic in a UK university. As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an amusing, educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.