Campus: Sonoma State University -- July 28, 2004

From Darwin Hall To Darwin's Islands - SSU Geology Professor Retraces Two Landmark Expeditions

Matt James first went to the exotic Galapagos Islands in 1982, when he was the same age as Charles Darwin was when he went to the islands in 1835.

For three weeks this August, James will abandon his office in Darwin Hall on the Sonoma State University campus and travel south to Darwin's Islands, the equatorial Galapagos archipelago made famous by Darwin.

Aboard a ship called the Tip Top III, which is about the same size as Darwin's ship HMS Beagle, James will retrace Darwin's footsteps and travel in the wake of the Beagle.

What James hopes to capture is as much of the "Darwin stood right here" feeling as possible that can only be experienced by careful retracing of Darwin's route from Darwin's field notebooks and published work.

In addition, James will have another expedition on his personal radar screen: the 1905-1906 Galapagos expedition of the California Academy of Sciences.

The Cal Academy sent out the schooner "Academy" to collect as many specimens of plants and animals as possible from Darwin's islands. They believed the flora and fauna of the islands were "fast disappearing" -- and they had better collect there before it was too late.

The men of the schooner "Academy" knew all about Darwin, who had visited the Galapagos 70 years earlier, in the fall of 1835. When the men of the "Academy" arrived in the Fall of 1905, they were well prepared to "collect evolution" and document the remarkable plants and animals of the islands.

James is combining his interest in Darwin and his personal research on the 1905-06 expedition into a narrative history of the islands called "Collecting Evolution."

The "Academy" had eight young sailor-scientists aboard for the year-long collecting trip to the Galapagos. Professor James has carefully examined the lives of these men, reading
everything they wrote and even meeting their living descendants all around the Bay Area.

James had poured over the yellowing pages of the field notebooks of the eight young men, and read their correspondence on thin onionskin paper in the Archives at the California Academy of Sciences.

Darwin propelled the Galapagos into fame with the publication of "The Origin of Species" in 1859. For the Cal Academy in San Francisco, the April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire propelled their expedition into fame.

During the earthquake and fire, the Academy's new museum on Market Street was completely destroyed. This tragic event made the specimens in the hold of the schooner "Academy"the basis for the new museum, now located in Golden Gate Park.

Walking in the footsteps of Darwin and the eight young men, sailing in the wake of the "Beagle" and the "Academy" -- Professor James will have lots to tell his students when he returns to teaching in Darwin Hall at the end of August.

Contact: Jean Wasp, Media Relations, (707) 664-2057


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