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Short Film
The Origin of Species: The Making of a Theory


The epic voyages of Darwin and Wallace led each to independently discover the natural origin of species and to formulate the theory of evolution by natural selection.

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(Duration: 30 min 51 sec)

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In the early 1800s, most people, scientists included, accepted as fact that every species was specially created by God in a form that never changed. The epic voyages and revolutionary insights of two brave young British naturalists, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, overturned this long-held idea. Prodigious collectors of animals and plants, each man developed a keen appreciation for the variation within species, the relatedness of species, and the patterns of geographic distribution—evidence that was hard to reconcile with special creation. This hard-earned knowledge led each to ask why and how creatures came to live in a given place.

"This short video is an excellent depiction of how the theory of evolution came to be. It presents its history primarily from Wallace's perspective, which is a nice change, considering that most students know only about Darwin's contributions. The format is engaging and includes dramatizations interspersed between live-action scenes. It is appropriate for students in a general biology or AP Biology class and exciting enough to hold their attention."

—Jeffrey D. Sack, American Biology Teacher, April 2014

"It's a whirlwind introduction to the theories of evolution and speciation, but one that is elegantly crafted to hold the attention of not just the young audience for which it was intended, but also an educated evolutionary biologist such as myself."

—Jef Akst, The Scientist, November 2013

Curriculum Connections:

AP (2012–13)

1.A.1.a,b,c,d,e; 1.A.2.a,b,c; 1.A.4.a,b 

Supporting Materials (4)

Film Guides
The following classroom-ready resources complement The Origin of Species: The Making of a Theory, which tells the story of the epic adventures of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace and of the evidence they gathered for the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.
Classroom Resource
Students are challenged to identify “fact patterns,” or patterns that emerge from a collection of different facts and observations, and draw conclusions about what they suggest.
Classroom Resource
This activity supports the viewing of the film The Origin of Species: The Making of a Theory. Before and after watching the film, students discuss and evaluate several statements about Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, and the specific evidence that led each of them to the theory of evolution by natural selection. 
Classroom Resource
This activity supports the HHMI short film The Origin of Species: The Making of a Theory. Students are presented with a map of the Malay Archipelago and some field notebooks with observations of animals. By plotting which animals are found on which island, the students discover the Wallace Line—a sharp boundary that separates distinct Asian and Australian fauna. 

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The richness and diversity of life raises two of the most profound questions in biology: How do new species form? And, why are there so many species?

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