H.G. Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism
The German translation of Darwin's The Origin of Species appeared in 1860, just months after the original, thanks to Heinrich Georg Bronn, a distinguished German paleontologist whose work in some ways paralleled Darwin's. Bronn's version of the book (with his own notes and commentary appended) did much to determine how Darwin's theory was understood and applied by German biologists, for the translation process involved more than the mere substitution of German words for English. In this book, Sander Gliboff tells the story of how The Origin of Species came to be translated into German, how it served Bronn's purposes as well as Darwin's, and how it challenged German scholars to think in new ways about morphology, systematics, paleontology, and other biological disciplines. Gliboff traces Bronn's influence on German Darwinism through the early career of Ernst Haeckel, Darwin's most famous nineteenth-century proponent and popularizer in Germany, who learned his Darwinism from the Bronn translation.
Gliboff argues, contrary to most interpretations, that the German authors were not attempting to "tame" Darwin or assimilate him to outmoded systems of romantic Naturphilosophie. Rather, Bronn and Haeckel were participants in Darwin's project of revolutionizing biology. We should not, Gliboff cautions, read pre-Darwinian meanings into Bronn's and Haeckel's Darwinian words.
Gliboff describes interpretive problems faced by Bronn and Haeckel that range from the verbal (how to express Darwin's ideas in the existing German technical vocabulary) to the conceptual. One of these conceptual problems, the origins of novel variation and the proper balance between creativity and constraint in evolution, emerges as crucial. Specialists in evolutionary biology today, Gliboff points out, continue to grapple with comparable questions—continuing a larger process of translation and interpretation of Darwin's work.
About the Author
Sander Gliboff is Associate Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University.
"In the course of this short book, Gliboff presents a fascinating account of German natural history prior to Darwin as well as a detailed analysis of Bronn's job as translator. This book will interest biologists, historians of science, and translators in any field.", R. Gilmour, Ithaca College, CHOICE
"Gliboff's superb and very accessible study is highly recommended for everyone with a serious interest in the history of evolution.", Paul Fayter, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
"This book is a novel and valuable interpretation of the early history of Darwin's ideas in Germany, as well as an important rethinking of what the modern synthesis synthesized. By a careful reading of the original texts and a sensitivity to the German language, Gliboff has shown that many of the standard stories about Bronn, Darwin's German translator, are seriously in error. In a similar way, he has reinterpreted the standard treatment of Haeckel, Darwin's chief popularizer in Germany, and in so doing, he has demonstrated how our picture of the development of the theory of evolution needs to be reexamined. Gliboff's book has the potential to alter the way we tell the wider story of the development of the theory of evolution."
—Paul Farber, OSU Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of History, Oregon State University, and Editor, Journal of the History of Biology
"Ernst Haeckel is often portrayed as having perverted Darwinian theory and beguiled several generations with his polemical efforts at popularizing the Englishman's ideas. Sander Gliboff aggressively corrects this distorted image of Haeckel's accomplishments and resets them within a biology that shed its fustian transcendentalism for more stylish modern dress. He thereby dexterously measures Haeckel up to Darwin's own standards, despite the assumptions of miscreant historians to the contrary. In his renovative account of H. G. Bronn, Darwin's translator, and his vigorous defense of Haeckel, Gliboff flashes his vorpal blade at scholars of stature and of craft, charging his book with the excitement of competitive history."
—Robert J. Richards, Morris Fishbein Professor of the History of Science,University of Chicago
"Gliboff resurrects Bronn's and Haeckel's importance in the process oftranslating and transforming Darwin's theory for a German audience, andemphasizes the manifold ways their work helped to shape late nineteenth-century biology. This beautifully written and well argued work makes asignificant contribution to both Darwin scholarship and to the history ofmodern biology."
—Marsha Richmond, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Wayne StateUniversity