His grand adventure as a geologist took place during the circumnavigation of the earth by H.M.S. Beagle (1831-1836) - the same voyage that informed his magnum opus, On the Origin of Species. Upon his return to England it was his geological findings that first excited scientific and public opinion. Geologists, including Darwin's former teachers, proved a receptive audience, the British government sponsored publication of his research, and the general public welcomed his discoveries about the earth's crust. Because of ill health, Darwin's years as a geological traveler ended much too soon: his last major geological fieldwork took place in Wales when he was only thirty-three. However, the experience had been transformative: the methods and hypotheses of Victorian-era geology, Herbert suggests, profoundly shaped Darwin's mind and his scientific methods as he worked toward a full-blown understanding of evolution and natural selection.
Sandra Herbert is Director of the Program in the Human Context of Science and Technology and Professor of History at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She is the editor of The Red Notebook of Charles Darwin and coeditor of Charles Darwin's Notebooks, 1836-1844: Geology, Transmutation of Species, Metaphysical Enquiries.