February 12 is Darwin Day - how will you choose to celebrate his birthday?

by Adam Bambury | 06 February 2009
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A bearded man stands in front of an ornate building

Charles Darwin (aka Paul Netterfield) standing outside World Museum Liverpool, courtesy of National Museums Liverpool

Two hundred years is a long time to still be celebrating a birthday, but the ideas of Mr Charles Darwin and their continuing importance mean people are still eager to raise a glass to the bearded naturalist.

World Museum Liverpool is raising the bar with its birthday celebrations by securing an appearance by the man himself, or at least as played by actor Paul Netterfield. Fully kitted out as the older Darwin, he will be greeting visitors throughout the day and regaling them with evolutionary theory and tales from the legendary voyage of his ship the Beagle.

To accompany this blast from the past the museum has also unveiled an ovenbird specimen collected by Darwin in 1834 at the southern tip of South America while on his epic five-year exploratory voyage.

When he arrived home in 1936 he became a celebrity for his naturalistic exploits, while the research carried out proved integral to the publishing of The Origin of Species in 1959.

A bearded man with white gloves holds a stuffed bird on its side

Paul Netterfield as Darwin holding the ovenbird specimen, courtesy of National Museums Liverpool

Over in Bath things will take a turn for the bizarre at the Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, as performance art group Eak-Art cook up a special birthday cake with an extra Darwinian ingredient – fish.

Their no doubt tasty efforts are in support of the Mr Darwin’s Fishes exhibition, which is opening at the Institution on the same day. It investigates the methods Charles Darwin used to collect fish specimens on the Beagle voyage, and how fellow-naturalist Leonard Jenyns studied them for publication in Zoology of the Beagle.

A new Darwin themed set of stamps will be issued by Royal Mail on the 12th, in honour of the great man. Each stamp has a jigsaw design that aims to demonstrate how the various areas of Darwin’s studies – zoology, botany, geology, ornithology and anthropology – came together to inform his theory of Natural Selection.

a photograph of a bald man with a long white beard and bushy eyebrows

Darwin himself, courtesy the Natural History Museum © Natural History Museum

On a similarly visual tip, the Horniman Museum in London is marking the date by opening its Exploring and Investigating Nature photography competition. Participants, grouped into different age ranges with no upper limit, are invited to take snaps of animals and plants whether on their doorstep or from more exotic climes.

The award for funkiest celebration (an adjective not usually used in conjunction with Darwin) must surely to the University of Birmingham with its symposium Darwin200@bham.

Things begin academically enough, with a series of lectures through the day. Talks range from ‘Ancient seers: evolution of the trilobite eye’, by the university’s Dr Alan Thomas, to ‘Deep Time to Far Future: Darwin’s Legacy in Science Fiction’ by keynote speaker and science fiction author Stephen Baxter.

But the evening brings with it something altogether different – The Rap Guide to Evolution, billed as a 'unique celebration, in music and poetry, of Darwin’s legacy realised through the medium of Rap Music'.

An iamge of a chair with wheels beside a bookcase.

Darwin's study © Tara Booth / Culture24

For more information on the nationwide events to celebrate the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth see www.darwin200.org.

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