Introduction to the autobiography of Julius Schaxel
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Personal notes, such as laboratory notebooks or, as in this case, an autobiography, are among the most seductive sources for the historian of science. They promise insights only rarely granted in the course of historiographical research and, at the same time, pose severe problems, when it comes to critical assessment of the sources. Whereas on the one side autobiographies offer a look into the author’s mind, there is on the other side the problem that they are always written in retrospect and with a specific motivation concerning their content.
Keeping this in mind, Schaxel’s autobiography represents a fascinating insight into an important but almost forgotten figure in the history of early 20th century biology. As Nick Hopwood has previously shown for his scientific-political activities (Hopwood, 1997) and Christian Reiss now shows for his scientific agenda (Reiss, this issue), Schaxel was a very ambivalent figure, in whose biography central themes of early 20th century science and...