On Wednesday 28th November 2018, the WCP staff (George, Charlotte and Helen) made a trip to Cambridge to meet the Darwin Correspondence Project (DCP) team to discuss the possibility of using the Epsilon data repository they have been developing as the online portal for our project's data.
Epsilon (see https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/Epsilon and https://epsilon.ac.uk/) is a project developed by the DCP in association with the Cambridge Digital Library, The Royal Institution, and The Royal Society of London, which aims to bring the correspondence of nineteenth century scientists together into one centralised online resource, allowing users to search and view the metadata and transcripts created by a variety of correspondence projects. This will enable researchers to better understand the scientific networks of the nineteenth century and to study the inter-relationships between correspondents. Perhaps the most important aspect of Epsilon, however, is that it provides a 'future proof', secure repository for electronic metadata and transcripts. The data are encoded in XML, rather than stored in a more ephemeral and complex system such as a commercial database and, importantly, the DCP will be providing a financial endowment to Cambridge University Library to ensure that the data are looked after into the distant future. The DCP will themselves be using Epsilon to store and make their data available when their project sadly comes to an end in December 2022, so Epsilon is a kind of 'Noah's Ark' for both their data and that of other participating projects.
The Epsilon project was announced in November 2017, and it currently includes the correspondence of Tyndall, Hooker, Faraday, Darwin and several others. We believe that the letters of Alfred Russel Wallace belong in such eminent company and want to ensure that our transcripts and metadata survive and are accessible to users into the distant future. Another important advantage of Epsilon for us is that having our data in a portal together with those of other important correspondence projects, will mean that more people will encounter and hopefully study Wallace's letters.
We arrived at Cambridge University Library at 11.30, and met the DCP Team (12 staff compared to our 3!). It was great to finally connect with what we regard as our 'sister' project! The team talked us through the way they edit and process their transcripts to make them available online, and to prepare them for publication in book form.
We were generously treated to lunch with the team in the Tea Room, and afterwards headed back upstairs for a more in-depth meeting about the Epsilon project and how we might be able to work together on the Wallace material.
The WCP team and some of the DCP team in the CUL Rare Books Room. Left to right: Alison Pearn, George Beccaloni, Helen Watt, Charlotte Robinson, Liz Smith. Alison is holding Wallace's 1st edition of Darwin's Origin.
We then had a bonus visit to the Reading Room to see some Darwin-Wallace related material. Highlights were Wallace’s personal annotated copy of the 1st edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the original 1842 'pencil sketch' of Darwin's species theory, letters from H. W. Bates, and drafts of Darwin’s Origin that had been used as scrap paper by his children - only surviving because of the charming children’s stories written on the backs of the pages!
George holding Wallace's copy of the 1st edition of Origin of Species (Keynes M. 2. 27).
Inscriptions on blank page of Wallace's copy of Origin (see below).
The 1st edition of Origin of Species was sent to Wallace on Darwin's request soon after publication. Wallace received it in February 1860 in Ambon island, Indonesia and was in awe of it; reading it five or six times. Years later he gave his copy to his close friend Richard Spruce - hence the annotation above. Note that "From the Author" was written by the publisher, not Darwin (which is why it is easy to read!). For more information about Wallace's copy of Origin see https://sci-hub.tw/10.2307/4331053
Another treasure of Cambridge University Library - the first page of Darwin's 1842 'pencil sketch' of his species theory. Photo. courtesy of Cambridge University Library.
Many thanks to the DCP team, Alison Pearn and Jim Secord in particular, for making our visit so interesting. We look forward to working with the DCP to migrate our data into Epsilon in due course given no unforeseen difficulties.