Oxford and Google release Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species' in digital format

12 February 2009

Origin_of_Species_smallTo mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, the   University of Oxford, through the collaboration between the Bodleian Library and Google, has released the first edition of the scientist’s seminal work in digital format.

Published in 1859 by John Murray, On the Origin of Species created widespread interest on its publication for its controversial ideas that contradicted the then current theories of biology. Although only 1,250 copies were printed, of which only 1,170 were for sale, such was the interest it is believed that all the copies sold on the day of publication. Copies of the first edition are therefore very rare. University of Oxford has only three original copies of the 1st edition within its collections: one belonging to the Plant Sciences Library, one to the Bodleian Library and the third one part of the Christ Church collections. The digitized copy is the one from the Plant Sciences collection.

The book is now available Google Book Search (click here to access the digital format) and the whole text of the book can be searched in full. On the Origin of Species is just one example of the many hundreds of thousands of books from libraries across the University collections now available through Google Book Search.

Talking about the digitization programme, Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley's Librarian and Director of University Library Services said:  'Library users have always loved browsing books for the serendipitous discoveries they provide. Digital books offer a similar thrill, but on multiple levels - deep entry into the texts or the ability to browse the virtual shelf of books assembled from the world's great libraries.'

Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director said:  'The Bodleian and other Oxford libraries are delighted to collaborate with Google on this major digitisation project. Hundreds of millions of pages of Oxford books are now freely accessible online, and scholars are already using the added functionality that full-text searching provides to make new discoveries and advance scholarship and learning.'

Regarded as ‘the most important single work in science’ (Dibner), On the Origin of Species has revolutionised modern scientific thinking and has established Darwin as one of the most influential thinkers of all time.

The Oxford-Google Digitization programme is part of the Oxford University Libraries’ ongoing commitment to enable access to their vast collections for the general public. 

Mass-digitization of the University of Oxford's books started in March 2006. The agreement between Google and Oxford covers only 'public domain' materials, i.e. printed books for which the copyright has expired. The digitization leads to the creation of two digital copies of each book: one for Google, and one for Oxford. The Google copy is fully indexed and searchable through the Google Book search service, while the Oxford copy will, in due course, be linked directly to the relevant catalogue record in the Oxford Libraries Information System (OLIS).

Another examples of other 1st editions from Oxford collections now available through Book Search is Emma: A Novel. In Three Volumes by Jane Austen, published by John Murray, 1816 available here.

Back to top