A Report on the Progress of the A. R. Wallace Correspondence Project

Text of an article recently published in the Newsletter of the Society for the History of Natural History:

Progress of the A. R. Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP)

Phase 2 of the WCP began in December 2017 and it has been running smoothly thanks to considerable help from The Charles Darwin Trust (http://www.charlesdarwintrust.org) who helped to set the project up and who are managing our grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

So far we have discovered and obtained scans of about 400 letters and other manuscripts which were new to us, and we are using 'detective work' to try and track down others. The new letters include some real gems. For example, we have found the earliest known of all Wallace's letters (from 1836 when he was aged 13), and a letter from his brother John to their mother which reveals the hitherto unknown fact that Alfred was planning to get married whilst in Brazil (see https://tinyurl.com/yyhxrl34). We are currently trying (probably in vain) to locate the 'Holy Grail' of Wallace letters - his legendary 1858 "letter from Ternate" which may be buried somewhere in the huge archive of geologist Charles Lyell's manuscripts which is currently being sold (see https://tinyurl.com/y5ohbq9d).

Our wonderful volunteers have so far transcribed c. 1400 letters and by the end of our current grant in August next year we should have basic transcripts of all the 6,500 documents we have copies of, including Wallace's notebooks. We aim to also have carefully edited transcripts with scholarly annotations of at least the c. 350 letters which will be included in Volume 1 of The Correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace. This volume will contain all of Wallace's early letters, from his teenage years up until March 1862, when he returned to England from his eight year expedition to the "Malay Archipelago". The big job of editing the book for publication will take place after the end of our current grant, and we will soon need to look for additional funding to ensure that this and our work on his many other letters continues.

The WCP has decided to use Epsilon as its Web data portal (see https://tinyurl.com/yyguvqo9), and migration of our metadata and transcripts will take place in the next few months. Epsilon has been developed by the Darwin Correspondence Project in association with the Cambridge Digital Library, The Royal Institution, and The Royal Society of London. It 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.

2019 sees the 150th anniversary of the publication of Wallace's book The Malay Archipelago which is still widely read today, and as a result there is heightened interest in him especially in South-East Asia. In February a very impressive monument featuring a 1.5 metre tall bust of Wallace was inaugurated at Tangkoko Nature Reserve in Sulawesi, Indonesia (see https://tinyurl.com/y47335vk), and in August life-size bronze statues of him and his trusted assistant Ali will by unveiled at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore (https://tinyurl.com/yxsfo33x). In the first half of November Wallace-related conferences will take place in Makassar, Sulawesi and at the Linnean Society of London. Details of these have yet to be announced, but when they are we will post them on our Wallace Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/1stJuly1858) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ARWallace) sites.

George Beccaloni
Wallace Correspondence Project Director

The full reference is: Beccaloni, G. 2019. Progress of the A. R. Wallace Correspondence Project. Newsletter of the Society for the History of Natural History, 116: 29-30.

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