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Darwin's “Natural Science of Babies”

Lorch, Marjorie P. and Hellal, Paula (2010) Darwin's “Natural Science of Babies”. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 19 (2), pp. 140-157. ISSN 0964-704X.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09647040903504823

Abstract

In 1877, the newly founded British journal Mind published two papers on child development. The earlier, by Hippolyte Taine, prompted the second article: an account of his own son's development by the naturalist Charles Darwin. In its turn, Darwin's paper, “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant,” influenced others. Diary studies similar to Taine's and Darwin's appeared in Mind from 1878. In addition, the medical profession started to consider normal child language acquisition as a comparison for the abnormal. Shortly before his death in 1882, Darwin continued with his theme, setting out a series of proposals for a program of research on child development with suggested methodology and interpretations. Darwin, whose interest in infants and the developing mind predated his 1877 paper by at least 40 years, sought to take the subject out of the nursery and into the scientific domain. The empirical study of the young child's developing mental faculties was a source of evidence with important implications for his general evolutionary theory. The social status of children in England was the subject of considerable discussion around the time Darwin's 1877 paper appeared. Evolutionary theory was still relatively new and fiercely debated, and an unprecedented level of interest was shown by the popular press in advance of the publication. This article considers the events surrounding the publication of Darwin's article in Mind, the notebook of observations on Darwin's children (1839-1856) that served as its basis, and the research that followed publication of “Biographical Sketch.” We discuss the impact this article, one of the first infant psychology studies in English, made on the scientific community in Britain in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Charles Darwin, child development, developmental psychology, 19th century, language acquisition
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Applied Linguistics and Communication
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2011 09:50
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:20
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/3237

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