Home arrow Teaching resources
Teaching resources

These teaching materials were originally developed for a primary-source seminar for final-year undergraduates in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, and focus on Charles Darwin's correspondence. We found that using Darwin's correspondence in seminar discussions and essay writing provided students with an accessible and provocative source with which to develop a more comprehensive picture of Darwin's life and work. The letters allowed students to place Darwin's published writings and notebooks within a broader social context, as well to explore the vital role of communication networks in science. Because of the richness and variety of the letters, these materials may prove valuable to teachers in many fields, including cultural and social history, literature, women's studies, and media and communications.

We have selected a number of letters from The Correspondence of Charles Darwin and bundled them into sets, each addressing a particular topic such as natural selection, design and religious belief, beauty, race, and experimental practice. These letters make an excellent point of departure for lectures, class discussions, reading groups, or writing assignments. In addition to these letter sets, there is a section with sample questions to help instructors motivate and structure seminar discussions using the correspondence. We have also provided a list of suggested readings that will help when using the correspondence in teaching and writing.

Transcripts of all the letters used in these teaching materials, together with some images, are freely available on this website. The Darwin Correspondence Project website contains more than 5,000 searchable and annotated transcriptions of letters written to or by Charles Darwin, as well as a searchable calendar of all known letters - nearly 15,000 of them. It also contains other useful material, such as biographical information for all of the correspondents. Additionally, all transcriptions made by the Project are being made available, with comprehensive introductions, annotations, transcriptions and other scholarly apparatus, in the Project's ongoing work, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, F. Burkhardt et al., eds. (Cambridge University Press, 1985-).

For more information about the Project and its publications, or for help with the Project's online database, please see:

We are grateful to Charissa Varma of the University of Toronto who contributed to the further development of this resource for the website.