A sensational discovery
Biology educationalists at the University of Jena publish unique lecture notes from Ernst Haeckel and Carl Gegenbaur.
“This discovery is a sensation!” says Prof. Uwe Hoßfeld of Friedrich Schiller University Jena, describing unique and important 19th century lecture notes that have come to light. Biology educationalist Hoßfeld and his colleague, Dr Georgy S. Levit, discovered notes from lectures given in Jena by the anatomist Carl Gegenbaur and the zoologist and researcher on evolution Ernst Haeckel. Both academics were active at the University of Jena in the middle of the 19th century. The writings were originally discovered in 2018 and were part of the estate of Russian explorer Nikolai Miklucho-Maclay, which was stored in the archive of the Russian Geographical Society in St. Petersburg. Together with other scientists, Hoßfeld and Levit have now published the valuable lecture notes.
Nikolai Miklucho-Maclay broke with Ernst Haeckel
“The notes give us fascinating glimpses into the history and visualisation of zoology and comparative anatomy at that time,” says Hoßfeld. The two texts are the only notes on the teachings of these authors that have been handed down to the present day. They show the state of knowledge and the methods used for disseminating that knowledge in the fields of zoology and comparative anatomy in the mid-19th century, specifically in 1865. The author of the notes was Haeckel’s student Nikolai Miklucho-Maclay, who as an explorer travelled to New Guinea for the first time in 1870, to study the indigenous Papuan population. Miklucho-Maclay had a tense and complex relationship with Ernst Haeckel. He was a student of Haeckel’s and accompanied him as an assistant on expeditions. Later, however, it is presumed that they fell out because the Russian scientist questioned Haeckel’s views on race in humans, and scientifically disproved them.
“Miklucho-Maclay can rightly be seen as the first empirical anti-racist in the natural sciences,” says Prof. Hoßfeld. The Russian’s observations and experiences with the Papuans showed the error of Haeckel’s assumptions that contemporary humans could be divided into various levels of development and therefore into different human “species” or “races”. Ironically, it was Ernst Haeckel himself who had postulated that in order to acquire scientific knowledge, it was essential to observe and study organisms in their natural environment. Nikolai Miklucho-Maclay fulfilled these criteria and also stayed several more times with the people of New Guinea.
A mammoth undertaking
The lecture notes that have now been published reveal more than just the state of research at the time. They also demonstrate that Haeckel, Gegenbaur and Miklucho-Maclay were skilled draughtsmen and aesthetes, as the notes are supplemented with many precise and detailed copies of illustrations that were clearly shown during the lectures.
“Nikolai Miklucho-Maclay transcribed the lectures in his notes each day,” says Uwe Hoßfeld. He wrote sometimes in German and sometimes in Russian, and his notes were peppered with numerous abbreviations. For these reasons, transcribing the texts was a mammoth task that took three years.
Special thanks go to anatomist Dr Rosemarie Fröber, whose outstanding knowledge of specialist anatomical terms and the context were essential for precise transcription in the case of Gegenbaur. For the transcription of the zoology lecture notes, it was Gerta Puchert und Achim Blankenburg in particular who contributed their expertise. And the publishers also wish to thank the archive of the Russian Geographical Society, and especially Maria Matveeva, for making the scans of the lecture notes available free of charge. Moreover, the project was supported by the management of the University and the Institute, as well as the Verein für Jenaer Stadt- und Universitätsgeschichte (Jena City and University History Association).
Contact for scientific information:
extraordinary professor Dr Uwe Hoßfeld
Biology Didactics Working Group of Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Am Steiger 3 (Bienenhaus), 07743 Jena, Germany
Telephone: +49 (0)3641 / 949491
Uwe Hoßfeld, Rosemarie Fröber, Theresa Thieme, Georgy S. Levit, Maria Matveeva, Martin S. Fischer (Hg.): Vorlesungen über Menschliche Anatomie von Carl Gegenbaur, THK-Verlag, Arnstadt 2022, 271 pages, numerous illustrations, 24.90 euros, ISBN: 978-3-945068-56-4
Uwe Hoßfeld, Georgy S. Levit, Martin S. Fischer, Maria Matveeva, Gerta Puchert, Achim Blankenburg, Theresa Thieme (Hg.): Vorlesungen über Zoologie von Ernst Haeckel, THK-Verlag, Arnstadt 2022, 179 pages, numerous illustrations, 24.90 euros, ISBN: 978-3-945068-55-7