Day School: How Victorian England Reacted to Darwin's Unsettling News

Ref: C3741104

There are two themes to this course – (1) Deep time – the consequences of an understanding of the geological record for established religion, and (2) the concept of transmutation of species – the differences between human and beast and the consequences for the human soul and a creator God. The course covers: • The early context – what ideas about evolution and geological timescales were understood in the early 19th century? • Darwin’s voyage on The Beagle; the insights gained from what his observations • Darwin’s “big idea” and why he kept it hidden for 22 years • The sociological context and institutional concerns (including Parliament and the established Church) • The work of Alfred Russell Wallace, and its impact on Darwin • The Origin of Species (1859) • Scientific, religious and public reactions to “Darwinism” • The Descent of Man (1871) • Darwin’s legacy

Additional information about this course

This course is not supported by the Skills Funding Agency and does not have a fee waiver but concessions may be available - contact the Branch for further details.

Course aim

This course provides an understanding of Charles Darwin’s life and works, and of how his theories came to be understood and (eventually) accepted in late-Victorian Britain

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Identify the key events in Darwin’s life.
  • Understand the theory of Natural Selection as a mechanism for evolutionary change
  • Discuss the impact of Darwin’s scientific discoveries on the Church, British institutions and the general public
  • Analyse Darwin’s legacy today

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • Various readings will be provided

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning
  • You will be encouraged to consider other students work and give your opinions and suggestions

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed
  • All materials will be provided

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading is required but research on the subject on the internet or in the library may be helpful
  • Janet Browne’s academic biography of Darwin (1995) is comprehensive yet readable - vol. 1 Voyaging and vol. 2 The Power of Place A full record of Darwin’s works can be accessed at

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • A visit to Darwin’s home in Kent can be arranged here: More general academic courses on History of Science subjects can be found online

Download full Course information sheet

Day School: How Victorian England Reacted to Darwin's Unsettling News


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  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
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  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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