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Old Dominion Public Lecture: Darwin’s Diagram

Rachael Z. DeLue, Art and Archaeology

Tue, 12/3 · 4:30 pm-6:00 pm · 010 East Pyne

Humanities Council

“The mind cannot possibly grasp the full meaning of the term of a hundred million years; it cannot add up and perceive the full effects of many slight variations, accumulated during an almost infinite number of generations.” Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859), p. 481.

Charles Darwin included only one illustration in On the Origin of Species when it was published in 1859.  Often described as a “tree of life,” the diagram represents divergence of character, a principle at the heart of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  A significant departure from prevailing conventions of scientific illustration, Darwin’s minimalist diagram appears to add little to his account.  So why did Darwin include it?  And why, apart from the diagram, did he in On the Origin of Species eschew illustrations, a staple of his earlier publications?  And why this illustration, given its marginal capacity to signify? In her talk, Rachael DeLue considers these questions, which form part of a larger project on Impossible Images and the Perils of Picturing.

Rachael Z. DeLue is the Christopher Binyon Sarofim ’86 Professor in American Art and  Old Dominion Research Professor at the Humanities Council for the academic year 2019-2020.

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