Danes commemorating Darwin: apes and evolution at the 1909 anniversary

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  • Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, Denmark
  • Department of Science Studies
This article analyses the Danish 1909 celebrations of the centenary of Charles Darwin's birth on 12 February 1809. I argue that the 1909 meetings, lectures and publications devoted to Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection can be characterised by ambivalence: On the one hand, tribute to a great man of science who established a new view of nature and, on the other hand, scepticism towards the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and the wider religious and political implications drawn from his theory. The article examines both professional and popular commemorative activities, focusing primarily on celebratory articles carried in widely circulated magazines and newspapers. I identify three types of interpretations of Darwin's ideas which I characterise as ‘radical', ‘evangelical' and ‘safe' science. These different positions were closely linked to the political and cultural divisions of the periodical press. Moreover, my analysis of the popular press offers a solid basis for asserting that to most people Darwinism was associated with human evolution, primarily the relationship between man and apes, while more sophisticated discussions about the crisis of Darwinism prominent among naturalists played only a secondary role in the public arena. This article demonstrates the value of using newspapers as historical sources when looking for public images of Darwin, popular receptions of Darwinism and representations of science in general.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of Science
Pages (from-to)485-525
Number of pages41
Publication statusPublished - 2010

    Research areas

  • Charles Darwin, 1909, commemoration, evolution, science and religion, science communication, Denmark, newspapers

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