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Russian editions of E. Haeckel’s works and the evolution of their perception

I believe, for instance, that Mr. Haeckel is the worst and the most harmful of all I know.

(L. Tolstoy, 1908).

Abstract

The article aims to clarify the dynamics of the publication of E. Haeckel’s works in Russia, and the evolution of their perception by the authorities, various social groups and scientists in a rapidly changing sociocultural context and in relation to the various stages of the evolutionary synthesis. It is shown that his works were reprinted nearly 50 times. Until the beginning of twentieth century, the translations of his works to some extent reflected the evolution of Haeckel’s interests. His scientific ideas and concepts freely spread in the Russian-speaking world and predetermined phylogenetic studies. They define many specific features of the evolutionary synthesis in the Russian-speaking world. At the same time, Russian translations of Haeckel’s philosophical and paradigmatic works, many of which were used by radicals in their ideological and political struggle and in anti-religious propaganda, were banned by the tsarist authorities and criticized by conservatives. After the 1917 revolution, numerous attempts were made in Russia to use Haeckel’s monism for the dialectization of natural science, to defend the principle of inheritance of acquired characteristics and to substantiate Lysenkoism. Nevertheless, his works in Russian have not been published and have never been a subject of any serious historical or scientific research for almost 80 years.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Prof. Uwe Hoßfeld (Jena University) and Privat-dozent G. S. Levit (Kassel University), who offered me to take part in the project, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Ernst Haeckel’s death. G. S. Levit actively helped me during all the work on this article. I am thankful as well to Prof. Lloyd Ackert (Department of History, Drexel University), Dr. Svetlana I. Zenkevich (Library of the St. Petersburg Branch of IIET RAS), Svetlana V. Retunskaia (Library of the St. Petersburg Branch of IIET RAS), A.S. Volkova (St. Petersburg Branch of IIET RAS) and the anonymous referees for valuable suggestions. Iulia Skvortsova meticulously translated the text, and Prof. L. Ackert was kind enough to edit it like a native speaker.

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This article is a contribution to the Special Issue Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919): The German Darwin and his impact on modern biology. Guest Editors: U. Hossfeld, G. S. Levit, U. Kutschera.

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Kolchinsky, E.I. Russian editions of E. Haeckel’s works and the evolution of their perception. Theory Biosci. 138, 49–71 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12064-019-00279-1

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Keywords

  • Haeckel
  • Censorship
  • Phylogeny
  • Monism
  • Lysenkoism