English publications (selection)


Blumenbach’s theory of human races and the unity of humankind (2018)

    The Göttingen physician and naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) was one of the founders of biological anthropology. He first presented his research program for the new science in his dissertation De generis humani varietate nativa (1775). The extended and significantly revised third edition published in 1795 was translated into several languages and made his ideas accessible for a greater audience. To a large extent Blumenbach’s impact was a consequence of the fact that he took up a political debate that was passionately discussed in the eighteenth century, and presented a scientific solution for it: Is it possible to prove that all humans belong to the same biological species considering the empirically observable „natural variety”? If this should be the case, how can the differences between the geographic varieties – in the human species as well as in other animals – be explained?

Thomas Junker. „Blumenbach’s theory of human races and the unity of humankind.” In Johann Friedrich Blumenbach: Race and Natural History, 1750-1850. Edited by Nicolaas Rupke & Gerhard Lauer. New York/ London: Routledge, 2019, pp. 96-112.

Art as a biological adaptation, or: Why modern humans replaced the Neanderthals (2010)



  • Newer biological theories attribute important adaptive functions to human art and thus provide an important, so far mostly overlooked factor that may explain the survival of modern humans and the disappearance of the Neanderthals. The oldest known objects unambiguously identifiable as art were found in Central and Western Europe and date from around 36,000 years ago. According to all that we know, they were created solely by modern humans who had migrated from Africa to Europe just a few thousand years before. Thus art seems to be the only fundamentally new characteristic that the ancestors of today’s humans possessed compared to earlier and other hominids (e.g. Neanderthals or Homo erectus) and that can be proven on the basis of archaeological finds. Although this historical reconstruction is widely accepted no causal connection is seen between the ability of modern humans to produce art and their stunning evolutionary success. How would a Darwinian explanation of art look like? Does it help to understand the origins of art and its enormous significance for individuals and social groups?



Thomas Junker. „Art as a biological adaptation, or: Why modern humans replaced the Neanderthals,” Quartär: Internationales Jahrbuch zur Erforschung des Eiszeitalters und der Steinzeit / International Yearbook for Ice Age and Stone Age Research 57 (2010): 171-178.




The downfall of civilised nations in the light of biology: Erwin Baur’s Darwinian Doomsday Science (1922/32) (2008)

  • The German botanist Erwin Baur (1875-1933) was one of the leading geneticists of his time. In 1927 he organized the Fifth International Congress of Genetics in Berlin. As early as 1924 he had demonstrated empirically and theoretically how the mutation concept of genetics can be combined with the theory of selection into a Darwinian model of evolution. With his work he anticipated and strongly influenced the Evolutionary Synthesis of the late 1930s and 40s. Baur was convinced that Darwinism can also explain the fall of ancient civilisations and that this insight can and must be used to prevent a similar fate for modern civilised nations. By changing the differential reproductive success of certain genotypes within a population civilisation itself destroys the prerequisites of its existence.


Thomas Junker. „The downfall of civilised nations in the light of biology: Erwin Baur’s Darwinian Doomsday Science (1922/32),” Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology 13 (2008): 53-65.




The Eclipse and Renaissance of Darwinism in German Biology (1900-1950) (2008)

  • In the first half of the twentieth century Darwinism had a turbulent fate. At the beginning of the century only a minority of biologists adopted its principles, but just a few decades later it had became the dominant theory in evolutionary biology, and still is today. When the new Darwinian theory emerged in the 1920s, the competing theories that had existed at the beginning of the century did not vanish: There still were Lamarckians (Hans Böker, Ludwig Plate), saltationists (Richard Goldschmidt, Otto Heinrich Schindewolf), orthogeneticists (Othenio Abel, Edwin Hennig), idealists (Wilhelm Troll, Ernst Bergdolt), creationists (Otto Kleinschmidt) and sceptics (Adolf Remane, Erwin Stresemann) during the 1930s and 40s. The major difference between the situation of 1914 and that of 1943 was not the absence or even weakness of one of the competing schools in evolutionary biology, but the return of the Darwinian (selectionist) tradition.



Thomas Junker. „The Eclipse and Renaissance of Darwinism in German Biology (1900-1950).” In The Reception of Charles Darwin in Europe. 2 vols. Edited by Eve-Marie Engels and Thomas Glick. The Athlone Critical Traditions Series: The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe. London: Continuum, 2008, vol. 2, pp. 482-503, 592-97.




Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) and the New Philosophy of Biology (2007)

  • Mayr has published more than 700 scientific papers and more than twenty books. He has received many honorary degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in the world, and was an elected member of many distinguished academies. […] In personal conversation and his letters Mayr was unpretentious, full of humour, self irony and warmth. In scientific discussions, however, he stubbornly insisted on arguments and on unambiguous statements. Sometimes he preferred categorical, almost one-sided statements, because he thought that such an approach would challenge the readers to come up with a refutation: „My own feeling is that it leads more quickly to the ultimate solution of scientific problems than a cautious sitting on the fence” (Mayr 1982, p. 9). But he was tolerant of other points of view when they could be substantiated and never took criticism personally. From time to time he could be persuaded of another position, and he was proud that he had changed his mind on a number of controversial topics during his life. When he was confronted with pointless chattering or dishonesty he could be brusque and uncompromising. Most of all he wanted to see progress in biology, in history, and in philosophy and he detested ‘pink fog’, as he called it.
    Mayr was one of the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20 th century, he was an eminent ornithologist and systematist, one of the most influential historians of biology and a forceful advocate of a new philosophy of biology. His numerous articles and books became the point of reference for a whole generation of biologists, as well as for historians and philosophers of biology. For many he was an admired example, for others he became the prototype of obsolete traditions that had to be overcome. Whatever the particular reaction was he provoked, he could not be ignored. I am convinced that many of his ideas will survive. Far away from cursory fashions they already have become classics and will inspire future generations of biologist, historians and philosophers in one way or the other.


Thomas Junker. „Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) and the New Philosophy of Biology,“ Journal for General Philosophy of Science 38 (2007): 1-17.




Ornithology and the genesis of the Synthetic Theory of Evolution (2003)

  • During the 1930s and 1940s many of the controversies that had shaped the discussions about evolution for more than a century came to an end. This unification of evolutionary biology was achieved on a Darwinian basis. Together with selection, which was regarded as the only causal factor leading to adaptation, further evolutionary factors were integrated (mutation, recombination, drift, geographic isolation). This Synthetic Theory of Evolution or Synthetic Darwinism has dominated evolutionary biology since the early 1950s. In contrast to the situation during the nineteenth century, when leading ornithologists opposed Darwinian evolution, ornithologists played a central part in the formulation of the new model. Both Bernhard Rensch and Ernst Mayr based much of their evolutionary theorising on ornithological data. The British zoologist Julian Huxley did intense research on the ethology of birds. On the other hand the leading ornithologist Erwin Stresemann, teacher of both Rensch and Mayr, never really accepted Synthetic Darwinism. By comparing the theoretical views of Stresemann, Rensch, and Mayr, I will discuss in which respect ornithologists were especially prepared to appreciate the new genetical theory of evolution.



Thomas Junker. „Ornithology and the genesis of the Synthetic Theory of Evolution,” Avian Science 3, Nos 2 & 3 (2003): 65-73.




The Architects of the Evolutionary Synthesis in National Socialist Germany: Science and Politics (2002)

  • The Synthetic Theory of Evolution (Synthetic Darwinism) was forged between 1925 and 1950. Several historians of science have pointed out that this synthesis was a joint venture of Soviet, German, American and British biologists: A fascinating example of scientific cooperation, considering the fact that the evolutionary synthesis emerged during the decades in which these countries were engaged in fierce political, military and ideological conflicts. The ideological background of its Anglo-American representatives has been analyzed in the literature. We have examined the scientific work and ideological commitments of the German Darwinians during the Third Reich. We based our analysis on four criteria: 1) General attitude towards the Third Reich. 2) Membership in the NSDAP and other national socialist organizations. Endorsement and disapproval of the state ideology in 3) scientific and 4) other publications. We will mainly discuss the various authors that have contributed to Die Evolution der Organismen (1943), a collection that represented the evolutionary synthesis in Germany. Most of the authors promoted eugenic ideas, but not all of them adopted the racist interpretation of the Third Reich. Another finding is that there existed no direct connection between party membership and promotion of the state ideology.


Thomas Junker & Uwe Hossfeld. „The Architects of the Evolutionary Synthesis in National Socialist Germany: Science and Politics,“ Biology and Philosophy 17 (2002): 223-49.




The Synthetic Theory of Evolution: General Problems and the German Contribution to the Synthesis (2000)

  • A metatheoretical and historiographical re-analysis of the Evolutionary Synthesis (the process) and the Synthetic Theory (the result) leads to the following conclusion: The Synthetic Theory is not a reductionistic, but rather a structuralistic theory with a limited range of relevant hierarchical levels. Historically the Synthesis was not a sudden event but a rational long-term project carried out between 1930 and 1950 by a large number of biologists in several countries. In the second part of our paper the contributions of several German biologists to the Synthesis are analyzed.


Wolf Ernst Reif, Thomas Junker & Uwe Hoßfeld. „The Synthetic Theory of Evolution: General Problems and the German Contribution to the Synthesis,“ Theory in Biosciences 119 (2000): 41-91.

Commentary: Michael T. Ghiselin. “Evolutionary synthesis from a cosmopolitan point of view: a commentary on the ideas of Reif, Junker and Hossfeld,”Theory in Biosciences 120 (2001): 166-72.




Blumenbach’s Racial Geometry (1998)

  • "Recently a revised and expanded edition of Stephen Jay Gould’s classic The Mismeasure of Man has been published. [...] Gould claims that [... Johann Friedrich] Blumenbach has changed „the mental geometry of human order to a scheme that has promoted conventional racism ever since.“ (p. 405). Gould’s central claim is that Blumenbach „ended up with a system (see the accompanying illustration from his treatise) that placed a single race at the pinnacle of closest approach to the original creation, and then envisioned two symmetrical lines of departure from this ideal toward greater and greater degeneration.“ (p. 410, emphasis added). [...] The illustration, however, is not from Blumenbach’s Treatises, but a construction by Gould. In the Treatises we find a completely different picture: a horizontal arrangement of the skulls. [...]
    It is obvious that with the original illustration by Blumenbach Gould’s argument would have collapsed to a large extent. Of course, Blumenbach might have ‘implied’ a triangle that would have given a visual representation of his supposedly hierarchical model, and it was only Gould who has discovered this intention. Blumenbach, however, choose a horizontal arrangement [...]. In a way this misrepresentation seems to confirm the constructionist notion, mentioned by Gould, that „unconscious presupposition always influence our analysis and organization of presumably objective data“ (p. 49). On the other hand this cannot be taken as an excuse for an obvious distortion of historical facts based on modern projections."

Stephen Jay Gould: On Mental and Visual Geometry (1998)

  • "I thank Thomas Junker for his correction to the illustration of Blumenbach’s skulls that accompanies the reprint of my essay, originally written for Discover Magazine (1994), in the revised version of The Mismeasure of Man (1996). Blumenbach’s original depicts these skulls on a line, with the Caucasian example in the center. The version prepared by the Norton book designers converted this line into a wedge, with the Caucasian skull at the apex. [...] My argument rests entirely upon Blumenbach’s text. I never mention or cite his figure at all (except in a parenthetical remark, inserted by the editors to reference the added illustration). I don’t think that I even knew about the figure when I wrote the article, for I worked from a photocopy of Blumenbach’s text alone. The version that accompanies my essay, drawn and inserted by the editors, does epitomize my argument in a useful way (especially for the non-professional readers targeted by Discover and, later, by my book), but it remains superfluous and additional to my intent and analysis." [...]



Thomas Junker. „Critiques and Contentions: Blumenbach’s Racial Geometry,“ Isis 89 (1998): 498-501.

Response: Stephen Jay Gould: „On Mental and Visual Geometry,“ Isis 89 (1998): 502-04.




Factors Shaping Ernst Mayr’s Concepts in the History of Biology (1996)

  • Ernst Mayr's central role in the emergence of the modern evolutionary synthesis is well-known and has been widely discussed in the historical literature. Mayr's rather extensive work in the history of biology, on the other hand, has received comparatively little systematic attention. His major writings, especially The Growth of Biological Thought (1982), are frequently cited and were controversially discussed in numerous more or less extensive reviews. However, so far there has been no attempt to analyze Mayr's historical writings in a more systematic way and to relate them to the biographical, professional and scientific context, in which they were developed. […] In the subsequent analysis, I will try to approach these questions from a historical point of view and look for the origins of Mayr's concepts by studying his personal and professional development. Consequently, it will only be mentioned in passing to what extent the historical facts can be considered as a cause for his concepts in the history of biology.




Thomas Junker. „Factors Shaping Ernst Mayr’s Concepts in the History of Biology,“ Journal of the History of Biology 29 (1996): 29-77.




Introduction: Charles Darwin’s Correspondence with German Naturalists: A Calendar with Summaries, Biographical Register and Bibliography (1996)


  • If one analyses Charles Darwin's correspondence quantitively, the following picture emerges: by far the largest proportion of the letters are exchanged between British correspondents (including those living in the various British colonies). Taking as a basis the total number of 14,400 letters to and from 2,000 correspondents, 2720 of these (19%) are exchanged between 500 non-British correspondents (or 25%). Among this latter group, German-speaking correspondents predominate. [The corresponcents are] significantly younger than Darwin. The average year of birth of those individuals who entered into the most extensive correspondence with Darwin (five or more letters) is 1830. Most correspondents are therefore almost a generation (20 years) younger than Darwin, who was born in 1809 [...].
  • A glance at the careers of the correspondents indicates that professional naturalists either at universities or other natural history institutions are clearly in the majority. However, a significant number of other academics, such as physicians, pharmacists, and teachers are also represented. Finally, a proportionately large number of journalists, scientific popularisers, and interested laymen are included among Darwin's correspondents. [...] It is striking that among the six correspondents who exchanged the greatest number of letters with Darwin only Ernst Haeckel held a full professorship.
  • The scientific specialisations within biology were relatively equally divided on the question of Darwinism. One finds zoologists, botanists, and anthropologists from many different areas of specialisation, including systematics, morphology, palaeontology, embryology, geographical distribution, and floral morphology. It is clear, however, that naturalists who worked in the comparative tradition far outnumber those concerned with experimental biology.
  • If one examines the geographical origins of the correspondents, the following breakdown becomes apparent: the greatest number (twelve) of correspondents come from one of the Prussian provinces; of the others, seven come from Hesse, four from Saxony, three from Switzerland, two from Baden, and one each from Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Saxon Weimar, and Bavaria. By a large margin, then, the largest proportion of correspondents stem from one of the Prussian-dominated states north of the Main. Exceptions to this rule are only Baden and Switzerland. By contrast, the south German states - Württemberg, Bavaria, and the German-speaking part of Austria -represent but mere specks on the map of German Darwinism. Compared with Prussia and calculated on the basis of the proportion of the entire population, we find only nine correspondents in these states.
  • A possible explanation for this geographical division of Darwinians may be the corresponding confessional partition of Germany. Table 2 seems to confirm this hypothesis. Correspondents who come from a Protestant background are clearly in the majority. (The ascription of confession is not meant to indicate the actual religiosity of the individual but rather solely their familial background.) From the fact that correspondents who had a Protestant upbringing were more favourably disposed to Darwin's theories than those with a Catholic background it does not follow that there was a simple causal relationship.
  • For one thing, it should be noted that Württemberg was predominantly Protestant and that a third of Bavarians were Protestants. Also, some of the north German Protestant states (Braunschweig, Oldenburg, Mecklenburg/Schwerin, and Hannover) showed no affinity to Darwinian thought.
  • Another possible explanation may be the different sociopolitical traditions of the various states. The German states, especially before the founding of the Reich, pursued different sociopolitical and economic goals. While in the first half of the nineteenth century the south German states and Switzerland followed a programme of stable, secure, and "organic" development rather than laissez-faire politics, Prussia, like Darwin's England, pursued a policy of economic liberalism and capitalistic competition. These differences perhaps carried over into the context of evolution theory. While south German biologists tended to support orthogenetic models, most of the selectionists came from Prussia or from the annexed states of middle Germany [...]. Further factors that may play a part are institutional influences and the formation of scientific schools. Berlin predominates as the primary place of study; younger correspondents studied at Jena.


Thomas Junker & Marsha Richmond (Herausgeber). Charles Darwins Briefwechsel mit deutschen Naturforschern. Ein Kalendarium mit Inhaltsangaben, biographischem Register und Bibliographie. Charles Darwin’s Correspondence with German Naturalists: A Calendar with Summaries, Biographical Register and Bibliography. Acta Biohistorica, I. Marburg: Basilisken-Presse, 1996.





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