History of Pre Darwin Zoology

Zoology is the biological discipline that involves the study of animals. There is an important historical difference between zoology in the pre-Darwinian age before Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, and post-Darwinian times where Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection increasingly became fundamental to the discipline.

Before the arrival of Darwin’s great work back in the 19th Century the study of animals already had a tradition of scientific study going back at least to the 16th Century. Although arguably there are advances in biology that can be traced back as far Aristotle. In particular he made important attempts to develop systems of taxonomy and causation for describing animal species and behaviour.

In the 16th Century systematic scientific attempts to observe and experiment on animals became increasingly widespread, particularly in the universities across Europe. The 17th Century researchers built on this institutionalisation with the first academies and societies appearing. In 1662 the Royal Society of London received royal charter, for example, although it had existed unofficially for 17 years before that. The academies were important in bringing together workers in museums with those who worked as physicians and anatomists, for example.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries the project of taxonomising the animal world was stepped up in earnest, culminating with the important efforts of Linnaeus late on in the 18th Century. There was a particularly important invention, as well, during this period that of the microscope. The invention has been a vital aid to zoologists ever since its first construction. However, it did take until the 19th Century for the microscope to be perfected to a sufficient level that animal cell structure could be observed.

But what changed as a result of Darwin’s great insight about the origin of species through natural selection? In fact, in the decades before Darwin came along, zoologists already had a concept of evolution. They already believed that species changed in to other species gradually over time. But this was a doctrine that was largely ignored by most people because it was in contradiction of the Biblical account of creation. But before Darwin zoologists lacked a theory that could account correctly for the evolutionary mechanism that was at work in changing species over the generations. One famous example of an attempt at an evolutionary theory, prior to Darwin, is that of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Darwin was to trump this with his great advance.