see it clearly
Learn more

History of Zoology

From the very beginning of the history of zoology, people have been spellbound by the existence of animals throughout this world. The very first people might not have put it quite that way, but by their observation and study of animals; they were the very first zoologists. They were engaged in noticing and recording the habits, biology, function, and history of animals, their fellow inhabitants of the planet earth.

History of Zoology

One might believe the history of zoology started recently, but that’s not the case. Wonder about the animal kingdom goes back thousands of years.

Zoology's written history may have begun with philosopher Aristotle in the 4th century B.C. He made extensive notes on the behavior, habits, and biology of animals. His writings formed a large part of the basis of the work of Saint Albert Magnus, a 13th century Dominican friar and Catholic Church bishop, who devoted much of his life to studying, understanding, and enlarging upon the writings of Aristotle.

One of the main fields of the bishop’s study was in the area of zoology. Magnus had moved from Bavaria, where he was born, to Padua, Italy, to take up studies for his calling to the Christian ministry. There, Magnus translated the works of Aristotle, gradually expanding upon the ancient philosopher’s writings and that of other geniuses of antiquity.

Magnus’ writings in natural science and other scientific and philosophical fields eventually totaled 39 volumes. He was considered to be one of the most widely read men of his day and his writings and observations in science and logic hold up remarkably well today. Magnus’ opus, De animalibus libri XXVI, remained one of the most important expositions on zoology and natural history until the 1800s. One of Magnus’ protégés was Saint Thomas Aquinas, another noted natural scientist and philosopher of his time.

Zoology Takes Off

It wasn’t until the 16th century, though, that the study of animals really came into its own. That time period coincides with the founding of important European universities, many of which had devoted part of their resources to zoology.

In 1651, the Germany Academy of Sciences opened and devoted itself exclusively to the scientific investigation of animal and plant phenomena. That inspired the Royal Society of London to open its own school in Britain a little more than a decade later. Soon after, the French opened a similar school for study of flora and fauna in Paris.

The study of the history of zoology, however, reached critical mass in the 18th century. Many Americans of prominence in that era, such as Thomas Jefferson, a famous American president were vitally interested in the study of the animal kingdom.

However, it took the important improvements in the invention of the microscope by the Dutch scientist Anton von Leeuewenhook for zoology and many other sciences to further galvanize the advances they had made to that point in history.

Insight into Cells

The importance of the microscope to areas of zoology cannot be overestimated. By the 19th century, scientists had discovered by careful examination the existence of cells, out of which all life is created. The process of life and the importance of cellular biology as studied by scientists using microscopes brought zoology into this most important golden age.

This was also the era of Charles Darwin, the biologist whose earth-shattering book On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, changed the world and the way man saw himself in it.

Darwin’s Contribution

It was in On the Origin of Species that Darwin made a profound contribution to the study of science. For the first time, by Darwin’s writings, man and animal were no longer considered to be separate. Mankind, in Darwin’s view, was simply another animal among many on the planet.

This caused a great outcry, especially among people of religious backgrounds. It seemed to diminish man from the superior position given to him by the God of the Bible and Darwin was fought with over his findings. Eventually, though, evolution has become the prime theory by which to explain how life on the planet began and how it continues.