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A group of 58 Year 6 pupils from Ravenswood School, Ipswich visited Cambridge University Library on Wednesday 25th March to be detectives for a day, looking for clues to help them understand about Charles Darwin.

The young students used a range of materials, including some taken from original sources held in the Library archive, to determine key facts about his life, his family and his work. Pupils had to study images and texts carefully to pick up all the details about Darwin and his significance.

Darwin’s early love of specimen collecting was unearthed in a caricature drawn by his student friend, Albert Way, showing Darwin riding on the back of a huge beetle. They also studied a letter he sent home to his father from the Beagle voyage to determine his state of health. Other sources included Darwin’s ruminations on whether or not to marry and a copy of a family tree to work out how many children he had and how many had survived into adulthood.

The workshop is part of an ongoing outreach programme for schools and adult learners offered by the Darwin Correspondence Project, based at the Library. The library holds around 9,000 of Darwin’s letters, in addition to manuscript notes, notebooks and ephemera. Many of the letters already feature on the Darwin Correspondence Project website and in the Cambridge Digital Library.

Resources for primary schools are being designed to complement the suite of activities for secondary schools and the Darwin Correspondence Project staff work in partnership with university museums including the Botanic Garden and the Whipple Museum to deliver schools workshops. There are plans to develop focussed web resources for informal adult learners and the ‘casually curious’, too.

Image (top): Darwin’s children relaxing at Down House (Cambridge University Library, Dar.219.12:9).