Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919) was one of the most renowned biologists of the 19th century. After a short career as a physician, Haeckel turned his attention to zoology and served as a professor of comparative anatomy at the University of Jena in Germany. In addition to his teaching, Haeckel began cataloging sketches of organisms that he encountered. By the end of his career, Haeckel’s portfolio included over 100 diagrams of sea creatures and other forms of flora and fauna.
His book of illustrations, “Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte” (translated into English with the title “The History of Creation”), was immensely popular following its publication in 1868 and made the dry works and theories of Charles Darwin much more accessible to the general public. At times, Haeckel’s work was criticized for not being entirely scientifically accurate, and it is clear that Haeckel’s motivation may have been as much creating artistic representation of organisms as it was to illustrate hard science. Nevertheless, his work helped to spread scientific curiosity and remains iconic to this day.
In addition to his diagrams, Haeckel gained notoriety for his theories on evolution and specifically his political application of such theories. Some theorize that Haeckel’s theories, which were less popular among scientists but enjoyed popularity in the public sphere, may have contributed to the German Nationalist Socialism that followed his death in 1919. While careful reading of Haeckel’s theory clarifies that he was very anti-social Darwinism, he was revered by the National Socialists (Nazis).
Contributed by Kane Thomas
Source: The European Graduate School Library <http://www.egs.edu/library/ernst-haeckel/biography/>