Lamarck at the Zoo
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Presented by the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Section
The Museum of Natural History in Paris, founded in 1793, was the site of many momentous scientific developments. There the zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first announced his broad theory of organic evolution. There too was established the first new zoo of the modern era, the Paris “menagerie,” which heralded and inspired the wave of new zoo foundings that followed in the nineteenth century. Lamarck took a turn overseeing the menagerie for a little over a year, but he then begged off, citing ill health. A year later, the role of menagerie superintendent was awarded to Frédéric Cuvier, the younger brother of the Museum’s famous comparative anatomist, Georges Cuvier. Frédéric Cuvier, like Lamarck, was a strong advocate of the idea of the inheritance of acquired characters, but like his brother, Georges, he strongly denied the reality of evolution. Looking at the careers of Lamarck and Frédéric Cuvier, along with the early history of the Paris menagerie, helps to illuminate some of the special themes that characterized the golden age of French zoology.
Richard W. Burkhardt, Jr
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign