Darwin’s home was going to be submitted to UNESCO’s World Heritage committee for designation as a World Heritage site, but that application was withdrawn, to be resubmitted in two years after some reworking. Down House has some handicaps compared to other World Heritage sites:
But without natural wonders or spectacular architecture, Darwin at Downe does not tick obvious World Heritage boxes. Although he was surprised to hear of Downe’s difficulties, Geoffrey Belcher, site coordinator for the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site in London, thinks that “A site with a limited range of qualities will be at a disadvantage.” The inclusion of the Royal Observatory makes Greenwich one of the few World Heritage Sites to celebrate science, but the site boasts architectural splendour and naval history too.
It is a rather different site—it’s not famous for some major chunk of tangible real estate, something that visitors could touch and take photos of, but for being a place where one of the major thinkers of the 19th century did his research and writing and correspondence, a kind of locus of thought. It’s definitely an important place in the history of science.
Ian Robinson finds one unfortunate comment in the article—a comparison with religious sites. Bleh.
“I can’t think of anything more important to do for the history of nineteenth-century science than to protect the whole environment Darwin inhabited and exploited,” says James Moore, a Darwin scholar at the Open University in Milton Keynes and one of the first historians to explore the importance of this rural refuge to Darwin. “Muslims go to Mecca, Christians go to Jerusalem, Darwinians go to Downe,” he says.
That’s putting the wrong spin on it. Another World Heritage site is Independence Hall in Philadelphia; we don’t go there because we worship the declaration of independence, or because we think the founding fathers were gods (OK, some people do, but they’re insane). Another is the Olympic National Park—again, it’s not a holy place, it’s a natural wonder. I like both, but that doesn’t make me an Independencehallian or an Olympian…although the latter does have a nice ring to it.
Nicholls H (2007) Darwin down but not out. Nature, 20 June 2007, doi:10.1038/447896a