Ernst Haeckel and the Phyletic Museum

Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919)

On July 30, 1908, the ‘Phyletic Museum‘ was gifted to the University of Jena due to its 350th anniversary by Ernst Haeckel. The famous zoologist was best known for his approaches in evolution theory.

The ‘Phyletic Museum’ is a unique institution, illustrating not only natural sciences, but also the entire development of life focusing on phylogeny and the theory of evolution. Also the junction of art and nature is an essential theme of the museum. The construction of the building in the style of Art Nouveau began on August 28, 1907 on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s birthday. Today, you can view collections with more than 500, 000 pieces, and there are still samples left from the time when Goethe himself was head of the zoological and paleontological department.

Ernst Haeckel himself was introduced to natural sciences in his childhood by his father, he began learning about the theories of Charles Darwin and the works of Alexander von Humboldt early, which was the reason why he started studying medicine in 1852. With the intention to prepare his habilitation (i.e. having the authority to teach at a German university), Haeckel travelled to Italy and researched on radiolarians with big success. He named more than 3,500 species and documented the results of his research in three books containing the extraordinary graphics he was widely known for. Haeckel published his works on general morphology and later studies on evolution theory. For him it was of great importance, that they could be read by scientists as well as by non-professionals. They contained not only scientifical, but also philosophical discussions illustrating Haeckel’s believe of monism.

Even though, some of his theories have been falsified today, they were an important milestone and represent the foundation of several following scientists and theories. Haeckel taught at the University of Jena, where he was honored with the doctorate and met Charles Darwin, whom he deeply admired and whose theories he distributed in Germany. During his life he travelled through most parts of the world while researching and gaining influence and respect for his work. The Royal Society awarded Haeckel with the Darwin Medal and he became an honored member of the ‘Accademia dei Lincei’.

At yovisto you might watch a short introductory trailer to the Jena Phyletic Museum and its exhibits (in German language).

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