science nvironment - NUS Blog - National University of Singapore

Evolution theorist Alfred Russel Wallace
goes online
By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News
Wallace in 1862: The naturalist spent eight years in South East
The great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace now has an online presence to
match that of Charles Darwin
The two men independently formulated the theory of evolution by natural
selection, and announced it in tandem in July 1858
But it is one of those quirks of history that Darwin got all the fame.
His collected works were digitised and posted on the web in 2006. Now, the
writings and drawings of Wallace have received the same treatment.
The effort has been completed by the same historian, too - John van Wyhe.
But whereas Dr van Wyhe produced Darwin Online from Cambridge University,
UK, he has led the new Wallace Online project from the National University of
Singapore (NUS).
Wallace was a major scientific figure in South East Asia.
"What this should hopefully do is result in a major upgrade in the quality of writing
about Wallace," the historian told BBC News.
"Next year is the centenary of his death. Just like 2009 was the big Darwin year,
2013 will be the big Wallace year. And I hope now that people have access to all
of his literature, it will make a big difference to what they say and write about
Wallace Online gathers together in one place for the first time all of the
naturalist's writings and illustrations.
There are 28,000 pages of searchable documents and 22,000 images. Among
the online gems is that first announcement of the theory of evolution delivered to
a London scientific meeting 154 years ago.
Wallace collected 125,000 specimens of insects and birds
It remains one of the great coincidences in scientific history that the one person
Wallace should choose to approach to share his ideas on natural selection was
the only other scientist who separately had come to the same conclusions Charles Darwin.
Quite why Wallace never achieved a similar level of fame has long been
debated, but the lower profile should not be seen as a reflection on the man's
talents or achievements, argues Dr van Wyhe.
The Wallace Online collection certainly bears testament to a prolific output. Like
Darwin, Wallace was also a great traveller, spending large chunks of time in
Brazil (1848-1853) and in South East Asia (1854-1862).
"It's very appropriate that we've done Wallace Online from NUS because Wallace
was the pioneering figure in the study of this part of the world," said Dr van
"He spent eight years here, using Singapore as his base. He made major
discoveries - he discovered hundreds of new species, going to places no
naturalist had ever gone to before. And then, of course, there is The Wallace
The Wallace Line is a term still in use today and refers to the sharp division
between the types of animals in Australia and those on the Asian archipelago.
John van Wyhe says 2013 will be a big year for Wallace
Wallace identified this abrupt transition, but could not satisfactorily explain it. Nor
would he have been able to.
It is only with the 20th Century theory of plate tectonics that scientists can now
describe how Australia, with its unique flora and fauna, was delivered from
another part of the globe and abutted to South East Asia.
Dr van Wyhe said: "Wallace is an amazing example of somebody who had no
privilege, no wealth, no connections - and who went out on his own to make his
own way in the world; and he discovered so many amazing things, not just
"That's why for so many people, he remains such an inspiring figure.
"He's the sort of person that you can aspire to be. You can just do it yourself
through independent thinking and hard work."