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This article is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Pictures from a Library
32: Suppressing the Emotions in Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions
Stella Halkyard
Spread from Charles Darwin Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (John Murray, 1872) © the University of Manchester, 2017

IMAGE Spread from Charles Darwin, Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (John Murray, 1872) © the University of Manchester, 2017.



THE FIRST photo-illustrated book produced by the publisher John Murray was Charles Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872. Concerned that the new photographic medium would prove expensive, the Murrays initially resisted its inclusion. However, Darwin – one of their best-selling authors – was able to persuade them to change their minds, insisting that the photographs were crucial.

Faced with a copy of the first edition in the Rylands, it is hard to appreciate just how unexpected a photo-illustrated book still was in the 1870s. Habituated as we are to the cohabitation of words and photographs in contemporary scientific texts, on page and screen alike, we don’t always appreciate Science’s preference for the iconic mode. Images, after all, are a medium for generating and communicating ideas, as well as illustrating them.

Darwin conducted his research according to an empirical methodology, which involved amassing specimens against which he could test his theories objectively. The data he needed to access for Expression could only be found in photographs because they had the capacity to arrest the fleeting instances and permutations of human emotion and to contain them in a material form. Using images by various photographers, Darwin could ...


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