Commentary: New Directions in the History of Ethology

Richard W. Burkhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


This welcome set of original and instructive papers illuminates and enriches the history of twentieth-century ethology in multiple ways. It adds a wealth of actors, animals, methods, and places to those featured in previous treatments of ethology's development. Some of the papers extend the chronology beyond the heyday of ethology's disciplinary construction to consider exciting developments in the 1970s and beyond. Others consider animal behavior research programs pursued contemporaneously with but independently of mainline ethology's development from the 1930s through the 1960s. Another paper takes us inside an ethologist's archive of visual images to examine the importance of such images (and such a setting) for ethological practice. Collectively, the papers provide new opportunities to contemplate how research programs and disciplines evolve; the relations between concepts, practices, and places; ethology and politics, and much more. At the same time, the individuality of the papers is conspicuous. They have not been constructed on the same model. The authors have followed their own approaches, corresponding to their own, respective interests. A short commentary is not sufficient to do justice to each of them. Rather than attempt to review them one by one, I will consider a pair of themes that may help relate the papers to each other and to the history of ethology: (1) the ongoing challenge of defining ethology and identifying who the ethologists were (or are); (2) the practices and places of animal behavior study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-199
Number of pages11
JournalBerichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Daniel Lehrman
  • Konrad Lorenz
  • Niko Tinbergen
  • behavioral ecology
  • ethology
  • field studies
  • zoological gardens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science

Cite this