Organisms in Their Milieu Alfred Giard, His Pupils, and Early Ethology, 1870-1930

Raf de Bont*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This essay tells the story of early French ethology--"the science dealing with the habits of living beings and their relations, both with each other and with the cosmic environment." The driving force behind this "ethological movement" was the biologist Alfred Giard (1846-1908). The essay discusses how the ethological viewpoint of Giard and his pupils developed in a period in which the current disciplines of field biology were not yet crystallized. It also shows how concepts and research interests could travel within Giard's network from one working context to another, even from one discipline to another. By studying this traveling process, the essay reveals that, unlike the modern ethology of Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen, Giard's ethology was not a discipline at all but, rather, a scientific attitude. This scientific attitude triggered a reappraisal of fieldwork, but at the same time Giard's ethology was never limited to the field alone. It also found its way to the laboratory, the museum, and the zoo.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-29
JournalISIS. An International Review Devoted to the History of Science and its Cultural Influences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes

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