The 4th A.R. Wallace Lecture: Saturday 14th October in London, UK

Saturday 14th October 2017
14.30–16.00 (please arrive at 14.15)
Darwin Lecture Theatre (Darwin Building B40 LT),
University College London, Gower St., Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6XA

Convincing Lyell: Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace,and the Great Transmutation Debate

Dr Jim Costa (Executive Director, Highlands Biological Station, Highlands, NC, USA and Professor of Biology, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, USA)

Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, published in Britain in three volumes between 1830 and 1833, helped launch modern geology as a hot and up-and-coming new science. Inspiring a new generation of geologists, its revolutionary effects on the study and understanding of earth processes and history are still being felt today. Yet the Principles had the opposite effect on the equally revolutionary idea of species change. Then-current ideas about transmutation, as evolution was termed, were thoroughly rejected by Lyell. For most naturalists of the day, Lyell's treatment was definitive, reinforcing the widely held opinion that the notion of species change was poor science at best and heretical at worst. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, working independently, disagreed profoundly with Lyell, and each worked in his own way to convince the great naturalist that he was wrong. In this talk I trace Darwin's and Wallace's separate strategies for engaging with Lyell, and show how these put them on a collision course with one another when, attempting to reach Lyell, Wallace sent his fateful correspondence to Darwin.

After answering questions from the audience, Dr Costa will be presented with the A.R. Wallace Memorial Fund's silver Wallace Medal for his outstanding contributions to Wallace scholarship.

About Jim Costa
Jim’s research ranges from insect social behaviour to the history of evolutionary thinking. Whilst a fellow-in-residence at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Germany, Jim completed several papers and two books about Wallace. On the Organic Law of Change (Harvard, 2013) is an annotated transcription of the most important field notebook kept by Wallace during his explorations in southeast Asia, providing new insights into the development of Wallace's evolutionary thinking in the 1850s. In the companion volume Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species (Harvard, 2014) Jim analyses Wallace's ideas and arguments about evolution in the notebook period in comparison with those of Darwin, and examines the relationship between these two giants of evolutionary biology. Jim is currently co-editing an Alfred Russel Wallace "Companion" volume.  His latest book is Darwin's Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory (Norton, 2017).

This is a free event and all are welcome! For directions to the Darwin Lecture Theatre see

*This event has been organised by Prof. Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education at UCL's Institute of Education and Dr George Beccaloni, Chairman of the Wallace
Memorial Fund and Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project ( For enquiries please email George: *

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith