The author had graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web this essay from his rich Alfred Russel Wallace site, which contains extensive bibliographies of primary and secondary materials, a section on frequently asked questions, the complete text of Wallace's most popular works, interviews with the great scientist, obituaries published at the time of his death, and an archive of portraits. Readers interested in Wallace, Darwinism, evolution, and zoology of South East Asia are urged to consult the original.

The assessment of Wallace's contribution remains a work in progress. In what follows I briefly outline what various sources have pointed to as his noteworthy achievements. The entries are arranged chronologically as possible; most include one or more referrals to related (his own, and secondary source) writings identified in the 'Wallace Bibliography' and 'Writings on Wallace' sections.

In 1851 ascends the Rio Negro/Uaupés River in South America further than any previous European; constructs a dependable map of the course of the river.

In 1852 advances the riverine barrier hypothesis of species distribution patterns in Amazonia.

Through his four-year collecting expedition to Amazonia (1848-1852) becomes recognized as an expert on the region's natural history.

Adopts the position, unusual for nineteenth-century workers, that uncivilized peoples are on the whole neither morally nor intellectually inferior to civilized peoples

In 1855 writes and publishes essay connecting the facts of geographical and geological distribution to evolution.

In 1855 engages in the first extensive collecting efforts and field studies on the orangutan.

Investigates and describes the faunal discontinuity now known as "Wallace's Line," c1856-1862.

Engages in extensive collecting efforts and field studies on birds of paradise, c1857-1860.

In 1858 writes and publishes essay introducing the concept of natural selection.

In 1858 becomes one of the first Europeans to set up a residence in New Guinea (S51, S65, S715)

Opines that Papuans are not Malays.

defends and eventually institutionalizes the faunal realms classification scheme of Philip L. Sclater.

In 1860 suggests that an international review board be established to settle questions regarding competing claims of priority in zoological nomenclature.

Collects 125,660 specimens (mostly birds and insects) during the eight-year (1854-1862) expedition to the Malay Archipelago.

In 1863 proposes a Darwinian explanation for the hexagonal construction of bees' cells (S83)

In 1864 introduces a model of human racial differentiation based on the theory of natural selection.

In 1864 introduces the concept of polymorphism.

In 1864 suggests that female butterflies may be more variable than males.

Makes fundamental early contributions to the theory of mimicry.

Constructs an evolutionarily-consistent theory of the necessity of aging and death.

Initiates the study of protective coloration in plants and animals, including inventing the concepts of "alluring colors," "deflexion colors," "warning colors," and "disruptive colors."

In 1867 opines that Polynesian peoples are not of Malayan origin.

In several essays contributes suggestions for the design of museums.

In The Malay Archipelago (1869) produces a study that becomes the most famous work ever written on its subject, and one of the greatest nineteenth century scientific travel books.

In 1869 is one of the first to describe surface manifestations of internal soliton waves.

becomes known as the greatest living authority on the Indonesian region

In 1870 advances an estimate of the age of the earth based in part on inferences drawn from land surface erosion rates.

becomes known as one of Darwin's most persistent and successful defenders.

In 1874 is the first to link bird migration to natural selection.

presents a range of evidence defending the permanence of the continental masses and oceanic basins.

promotes the use of ecogeographically-arranged displays of animal and plant forms in book figures and museum displays, leading to the development of the "faunal diorama."

In 1877 is one of the first to ask why color vision has evolved, and to suggest a possible answer.

In 1877 introduces the concept of recognition marks.

In 1878 is one of the first to consider the causes of latitudinal diversity gradients and related aspects of (what are now known as) r- and K-selection.

In 1879 describes the causes of disjunct distribution patterns.

Develops the first theory of the causes of continental glaciation combining geographical and astronomical factors.

Makes early contributions to the systematic classification of island types.

In 1880 presents the theory of alpine corridor dispersal to explain the existence of temperate and arctic plants in lower latitude locations.

In 1880 becomes a vocal supporter of the ideas of American economist Henry George, helping him gain prominence.

develops a model of rent assessment based on (1) the location of a parcel of land relative to other services, plus (2) value added to the parcel by the renter.

Is one of the first to draw attention to and provide evidence for the mouth-gesture theory of the origin of language.

In 1882 proposes that greenbelts be established near urban areas .

In 1882 proposes that rural areas and historic monuments receive legislated protection.

In 1882 makes the suggestion that explosives be stored underwater.

In 1882 draws attention to, and extends, Müller's work on mimicry.

In his analyses of small-pox incidence becomes one of the first to use statistical arguments in an attempt to resolve an epidemiological question.

In 1885 expresses support for creating a minimum wage standard.

In 1885 suggests it become law that all manufactured goods carry labels specifying their component materials, and that standards for those materials be set and administered by institutions representing each class of manufactures.

Through the book The Malay Archipelago becomes one of the most important influences on the writings of novelist Joseph Conrad.

In 1889 describes what is now known as the "Wallace effect," the process of selection for reproductive isolation.

In 1889 discusses the significance of symmetrical color patterns in animals.

Criticizes eugenics and develops a model of "human selection" based on elevating the economic status of women.

Draws attention to work being done to investigate Southern Hemisphere glaciation episodes.

In 1893 advances the opinion that the Australian aborigines are a Caucasian people.

makes contributions to the theory of ice movement in glaciers.

In 1893 all but proves Sir Andrew Ramsay's glacial origin theory of alpine lake basins.

In 1898 becomes an early proponent of using paper money as the standard of value.

Points to deserts and volcanoes as representing important sources of material for condensation nuclei, with special emphasis on the role of dust.

In 1899 suggests that employees collectively put aside pay otherwise lost to strikes for the longer-term purpose of company buy-outs.

In 1899 suggests using fire hoses as a means of riot control.

In 1903 becomes one of the first to identify the range of concepts inherent in what is now known as the "anthropic principle."

In the early 1900s pioneers the field of exobiology with studies on the likelihood of life-sponsoring conditions in other parts of the universe.

In 1907 debunks Perceval Lowell's idea that Mars is inhabited.

In 1907 predicts that the polar caps of Mars are made of frozen carbon dioxide, not frozen water.

In 1910 is one of the first to suggest that the animal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene might have been due to over-hunting by prehistoric humans.

In 1913 expresses support for paying double-time rates for overtime work.

Eventually attains status as history's pre-eminent tropical naturalist.

Eventually becomes known as the "father of zoogeography" for his many contributions to this field.

Related Resources


Victorian Web Overview Victorian Science

Last modified 6 November 2000