Associate 1992-93

Richard W Burkhardt Jr


The Establishment of Ethology as a Scientific Discipline after World War II: A Comparative and Ecological Study

This project in the history of science will explore how ethology, the biological study of behavior, emerged as a major new scientific discipline in the first two decades after the Second World War. Between 1945 and 1965, increasing numbers of researchers were drawn to ethological studies, the primary institutional structures of the discipline were created, and the field's early conceptual foundation (laid in the 1930s by the Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz and the Dutch zoologist Nikolaas Tinbergen) underwent significant elaboration and modification. The present study aims to describe and analyze these developments, relating ethology's conceptual development to the evolving "conditions of existence" of the new science within diverse institutional and cultural settings.

The research will focus on (1.) the formation of the post-war ethological community and the establishment of ethology's major research centers; (2.) the kinds of questions ethologists asked about animal behavior (and the kinds of answers they were prepared to accept); (3.) the organisms, instruments, methods, and explanatory frameworks ethologists employed in their scientific practice; (4.) the ethologists' efforts to construct viable niches for themselves in the broader scientific community and their own respective local settings; (5.) the interactions ethologists had with representatives of other fields; and (6.) the dynamic interplay among the above factors.

This study will build on Professor Burkhardt's previous research on animal behavior studies before World War II. The previous research and the research to be undertaken with the support of the Center for Advanced Study will be combined to produce the first comprehensive and comparative treatment of the history of ethology from its beginnings early in the twentieth century to its establishment as a major biological discipline in the 1950s and 1960s.