Darwin’s Home of Science and the Nature of Domesticity

  • Paul White


After his famous voyage around the world on the Beagle and a brief period in London, Charles Darwin acquired a large country house in the quiet village of Down in Kent and worked all of his remaining life from home. There he walked through orchid fields, traced the paths of honey bees, dissected pigeons, wrote his books, and was nursed in sickness by his devoted wife, Emma. Darwin the naturalist and country squire has come to epitomize the long tradition of gentlemanly science, using his house and its environs as a site of observation and makeshift experiment, reliant upon family members for assistance, and personal networks of exchange, especially letter writing.1 He seems part of a genteel, bygone age before the production of knowledge in university departments and national institutes with their factory-like laboratories, standardized training, and bureaucratic chains of command. Yet Darwin’s working life was contemporary with these institutional developments. Many of his closest friends and supporters were based in university or state institutions and presided over their expansion. Darwin’s career shows the enduring importance of the home in the making of elite science, and the extent to which household and newly professionalized science were interwoven, drawing authority from each other, sharing identity and ethos.


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© Paul White 2016

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  • Paul White

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