"It is curious how we hit on the same ideas." Charles Darwin to Wallace, 1867
"...there is no more admirable character in the history of science."
Sir David Attenborough, 2013
FUNDING FOR OUR PROJECT ENDED ON THE 31ST DECEMBER 2020. WE HAVE BEGUN WORK ON VOLUME 1 OF WALLACE'S CORRESPONDENCE (THE LETTERS FROM HIS CHILDHOOD, THE AMAZON AND THE MALAY ARCHIPELAGO) BUT NEED TWO YEARS OF ADDITIONAL FUNDING TO COMPLETE AND PUBLISH IT.
IF YOU CAN HELP IN ANY WAY, PLEASE CONTACT Dr GEORGE BECCALONI AT
"Thank you for putting together the correspondence project, it’s a true goldmine and it’s extremely well-done."
Prof. Christophe Thébaud, evolutionary biologist, University of Toulouse, France, 2022
Welcome to the Wallace Correspondence Project's (WCP) homepage. This on-going project aims to locate, digitise, catalogue, transcribe, interpret and publish the surviving correspondence and other manuscripts of the extremely important 19th century scientist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). Wallace has very many claims to fame, not least that he is the 'father' of evolutionary biogeography and the co-discoverer, with Charles Darwin, of the process of evolution by natural selection. With the possible exception of Darwin, probably no one else in the history of the life sciences has made as many seminal contributions as Wallace, especially to evolutionary biology the foundation of the entire discipline (CLICK HERE). For more information about his life and work CLICK HERE. A selection of noteworthy letters and other manuscripts are listed HERE.
Our project has so far located and obtained scans of 5,688 letters, of which 2,748 were written by Wallace and 2,159 were sent to him. The remaining 781 are third party letters which either pertain to him, or were written by Wallace's close relatives and contain information useful to scholars interested in his life and work. The letters were found in 245 public and private collections around the world, and in 245 articles and books.
Wallace's letters are a biographical treasure trove, and provide a far better picture of the 'real' Wallace than his heavily edited and censored published writings (e.g. his autobiography My Life (1905) or Marchant's Letters and Reminiscences (1916)). For example, Wallace never mentions the name of his wife (Annie) in any of his published writings, including his autobiography, perhaps out of Victorian propriety. The letters are also key to gaining a deeper understanding of his scientific and other work: how and why his ideas arose, and how they evolved over time. To date, no one has read and studied more than a small fraction of them, largely due to the difficulty and expense of obtaining copies of them from so many disparate sources.
The WCP is unlocking this valuable resource by gathering all the letters together for the first time, and transcribing them so that they can be more easily read and information within them discovered using electronic searches for words and phrases. The vast amount of unpublished information which is coming to light has already proved very valuable to Wallace scholars and our letter transcriptions have been used for the research for at least one PhD thesis (on Wallace's journey in Amazonia and its influence on the developing science of anthropology in the 19th century), for many scholarly articles, and for a number of important scholarly books (e.g. Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species, On the Organic Law of Change and An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion), plus the most detailed biography of Wallace written to date (Radical by Nature: The Revolutionary Life of Alfred Russel Wallace).
In 2023 we released a catalogue of the letters, the first ever published (see HERE). Although project staff and volunteers have transcribed all the letters (the transcripts are available in the project's online EPSILON database), these contain very many errors and need to be meticulously checked and corrected - a process which will take a very considerable amount of time and effort. .
It is important to note that electronic images of all of Wallace's correspondence and other manuscripts cannot be made publically available for a number of reasons (mainly copyright related), so transcriptions have to be relied upon instead. Since most users will not have access to the original documents and therefore cannot compared the transcripts to them, every effort needs to be made to ensure that the transcripts are as accurate as possible.
To date we have achieved the following:
- we have obtained 26,819 digital images of 7,409 documents (6,925 documents representing 5,688 letters, and 476 other non-letter manuscripts).
- we have catalogued the documents using our project's database.
- 171 volunteers have produced draft electronic transcriptions of all of the letters (we call these "Level 1" transcripts).
- we have written summaries of 1,438 letters.
- our researchers have carefully edited 1,004 Level 1 transcripts and written scholarly endnotes for them to help the reader better understand the text (we call these "Level 2" transcripts). This research is highly skilled and very time-consuming.
What we still need to do:
- researchers need to edit 4,768 Level 1 transcripts and write scholarly endnotes for them.
- all letter metadata needs to be carefully checked.
- researchers need to write summaries for 4,250 letters.
- Wallace's 1,592 correspondents, plus the more than 2,000 other people mentioned in the letters, need to be further researched, and concise biographies written.
- the project needs to continue to attempt to locate undiscovered letters in repositories worldwide and obtain images of them. We believe that many hundreds still remain to be found.
- a Wallace specialist (the project's Director) needs to edit all of the Level 2 transcripts and the endnotes written by the researchers. The 'publishable quality' transcripts which will result are known as "Level 3" transcripts.
- concurrently with the above, the project plans to publish the Level 3 transcripts in a series of printed volumes entitled The Correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace. The project estimates that the correspondence will ultimately fill 10-11 600 page volumes, each taking about 1-2 years to produce given two full-time staff. The project is currently seeking funding to produce volume 1, which will contain all letters from Wallace's childhood, up until his return from the 'Malay Archipelago' in 1862.
The WCP's online archive of Wallace's letters is now The Wallace Collection in EPSILON. Our previous archive, Wallace Letters Online (WLO), launched in January 2013, has developed a number of bugs and the metadata and transcripts it holds are now very out of date (it has not been possible to update WLO since 2015). EPSILON was developed by Cambridge University Library's Darwin Correspondence Project in order to bring together the letters of 19th century scientists in a cross-searchable digital platform. Combining correspondence data in this way helps recreate the vital communication networks that sustained scientific development, and opens up new research opportunities. EPSILON is as 'future proof' as possible. Letter transcriptions and metadata are held in TEI XML, an established standard markup language for historical texts, and funding is available to secure the archive's long-term future. It is surely appropriate that the correspondence of Darwin and Wallace, the co-discoverers of natural selection, have now been united in a single archive for the first time. Their combined correspondence will be an invaluable resource for historians of science and all others interested in the founding and development of evolutionary biology, biogeography, ethology, and the early history of the modern life sciences.
Note that the WCP's Level 3 publication quality transcripts will be made available in EPSILON two years after the date of their publication in our proposed series of volumes, The Correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace.
If you know of any manuscripts which you think we might not yet have found (e.g. letters in private collections), we would be extremely grateful if you could contact us at this email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that most repositories who have kindly supplied images of documents to us for research purposes have not granted us permission to display them on this website or to otherwise make them available to third parties. This is a major reason why we need to produce publishable quality transcripts of them and make them freely available.
Common variations of Wallace's name:
Wallace; Alfred Wallace; A. R. Wallace; Alfred R. Wallace; Russel Wallace; Alfred Russell Wallace [sic]
This site is maintained by George Beccaloni Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project and CEO of the Alfred Russel Wallace Trust
This page was last updated in March 2023