Skip to main content

The Gestation of German Biology

Philosophy and Physiology from Stahl to Schelling

The emergence of biology as a distinct science in the eighteenth century has long been a subject of scholarly controversy. Michel Foucault, on the one hand, argued that its appearance only after 1800 represented a fundamental rupture with the natural history that preceded it, marking the beginnings of modernity. Ernst Mayr, on the other hand, insisted that even the word "biology" was unclear in its meaning as late as 1800, and that the field itself was essentially prospective well into the 1800s.
In The Gestation of German Biology, historian of ideas John Zammito presents a different version of the emergence of the field, one that takes on both Foucault and Mayr and emphasizes the scientific progress throughout the eighteenth century that led to the recognition of the need for a special science. The embrace of the term biology around 1800, Zammito shows, was the culmination of a convergence between natural history and human physiology that led to the development of comparative physiology and morphology—the foundations of biology. Magisterial in scope, Zammito’s book offers nothing less than a revisionist history of the field, with which anyone interested in the origins of biology will have to contend.

560 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Biological Sciences: Natural History

History: European History, History of Ideas

History of Science

Philosophy: History and Classic Works


"The author has produced another excellent work. . . . Zammito's discussion of this diverse cast of thinkers is expansive and multifaceted . . . . It is cogently and compellingly argued, and has much to offer anyone interested in German idealism, romanticism, and the history of biology generally."

Quarterly Review of Biology

"To someone who has recently published a book on the very same subject, John Zammito’s latest work looks especially impressive. ... The use of literature and sources in this text is masterful. As Arnulf Zweig aptly noted about Zammito’s first book, ‘he seems to have read everything’, but the result in this case is not a simple anthology of existing scholarship. Skilful use of previous studies, focusing on specific aspects and authors, along with a fresh reading of original documents, creates a narrative able to connect and hold together with compelling coherence a series of episodes spanning an entire century, which thus appear as a sequence of variations on a single theme."

German History

"Zammito illustrates the far-reaching influence of the life-force debates not only as an object of investigation, but also as a starting point for epistemic reflections in themselves... Through the intensive integration of research literature, he expands the consideration of historical development to include a discussion of its scientific-historical development."

NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin (translated from German)

Table of Contents

Introduction. The Gestation of German Biology

Chapter One. Animism and Organism: G. E. Stahl and the Halle Medical Faculty
Chapter Two. Making Life Science Newtonian: Albrecht von Haller’s Self-Fashioning as Natural Scientist
Chapter Three. Albrecht von Haller as Arbiter of German Medicine: Göttingen and Bern (1736–1777)
Chapter Four. French Vital Materialism
Chapter Five. Taking Up the French Challenge: The German Response
Chapter Six. From Natural History to History of Nature: From Buffon to Kant and Herder (and Blumenbach)
Chapter Seven. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and the Life Sciences in Germany: His Rise to Eminence from the 1770s
Chapter Eight. Blumenbach, Kant, and the “Daring Adventure” of an “Archaeology of Nature”
Chapter Nine. Carl Friedrich Kielmeyer and “an Entirely New Epoch of Natural History”
Chapter Ten. Polarität und Steigerung: The Self-Organization of Nature and the Actualization of Life
Chapter Eleven. Naturphilosophie and Physiology


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press