Charles Lyell (1797-1875) is well known as a key figure in history of science, particularly for his part in the Darwinian evolutionary debates and in convincing readers of the significance of ‘deep time’. During the past decade, Lyell’s geographical theory of climate and his subdivision of recent geological strata have gained renewed attention in connection with discussions of climate change and the Anthropocene. The Lyell archive is almost certainly the most important manuscript collection relating to nineteenth century science still in private hands. At its core are 294 notebooks, which provide a daily record of Lyell’s private thoughts, travels, field observations and conversations.
The notebooks, have been put up for sale, but the UK government has imposed a temporary export ban to enable fundraising to purchase these remarkable documents, conserve them, and make them available on-line for free to the public. The University of Edinburgh Library, which already has the largest collection of Lyell material, is organising the campaign.
The sum required is £1,444,000; major donors have already pledged more than a third of the total needed. If significant public interest can be demonstrated by 15 July, the sale can be delayed until October.