The Other Darwin

Charles Darwin based some of his theory of evolution on the work of a man you’ve never heard of. An animation looks at the life and work of A. R. Wallace.

“Evolution by natural selection: this is an idea that has been sought after since the dawn of human thought,” says Dr. Andrew Berry in the video above, “and it was a theory that was discovered by two people, and we’ve blithely forgotten one of them.”

The famous man, of course, is Charles Darwin. The blithely forgotten one is A. R. Wallace.

In this animation from filmmakers Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck (also known as Sweet Fern Productions), two historians tell the dramatic tale of how Wallace, a naturalist who traveled the world collecting specimens, developed the idea of natural selection during a malarial fit in Southeast Asia.

To illustrate the story, Lichtman and Shattuck created an intricate landscape out of paper, filled with over 50 handmade puppets of exotic species and charming naturalists. Watch Wallace capture toucans in Brazil, scribble notes to Darwin, and narrowly escape a burning ship.

Does it matter who gets the credit for natural selection? Maybe not. But we care about evolution, in part, because it tells us where we humans come from. And you could argue that it matters where our most important ideas come from, too.

For more work by Sweet Fern Productions, visit sweetfernproductions.com. I especially recommend checking out their animated video about the afterlife of a whale carcass—it’s beautiful.

Katherine Wells is an associate video producer at The Atlantic. More

Wells was formerly a producer of WNYC's Freakonomics Radio and NPR's Science Friday.

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