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Anatomy of a Notebook: Charles Lyell’s words on vanished worlds

A discussion of Lyell’s notebooks in context; including the work required to preserve them for the future.

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was one of the world’s leading geologists. His uniquely important 294 notebooks, which date from 1818-1874, document his travels and scientific observations. They include sketches, preliminary thoughts, and discussions with peers – many with his friend Charles Darwin – and have notes on climate change and the age of the earth. To Lyell, his notebooks were vital to exploring and refining his ideas in a crucial period for modern science.

Charlie, Claire, and Pamela will discuss the anatomy of these notebooks – their significance, internal workings, and composition – and explore how collections are cared for, ensuring their preservation for the future.

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Additional Info

  • This event is suitable for age 16+
  • Whilst not a focus for this event, Lyell’s Notebooks on his travels in the northern and southern states of America in the 1840s and 1850s include sentiments in defence of slavery and asserting that Black people were part of a ‘lower race’. The assessment of Lyell’s historical importance recognises that his views in this respect may not sit comfortably with those of modern audiences. That he (with others) held views about the privileged origins of the natural sciences, and the excusal of American slavery makes it all the more important that Lyell’s world, and his words, are understood in context. This will only be done by critical, responsible, and thorough-going research.
  • Accessibility Statement: We aim to make events as accessible as possible. If you have any accessibility requirements or any questions about how we can support this event, please contact