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Lichtenstein, Hinrich, 1780-1857

Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) was a French zoologist, paleontologist and historian of science. A committed empiricist, Cuvier opposed theories, arguing that scientists should limit themselves to describing. In zoology his work depended upon his dominant position at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, which was the largest scientific research institution of the era. French government expeditions brought specimens from distant lands to build its collections. Upon his arrival at the Museum Cuvier rearranged its comparative anatomy collections, assembled at the end of the seventeenth century by Claude Perrault and in the middle of the eighteenth century by Louis Jean Marie Daubenton. Although Cuvier traveled little, he published three works of general zoology: Tableau élémentaire de l’histoire naturelle des animaux (1797), Leçons d’anatomie comparèe with C. Duméril and G. Duverney (1800, 1805) and Le règne animal (1817) arranged according to his new system of classification. Perhaps his greatest contribution was the Histoire des poisons, begun in Normandy and continuing after his death, which provided the basis of modern ichthyology.

Cuvier was born at Montbéliard in Württemberg on August 23, 1769, the son of a poor (but still middle class) soldier who was a retired French officer married to a woman twenty years his junior. He was born with a delicate constitution and enjoyed drawing as a child, but also demonstrated a precocious intellectual development and an astonishing memory. Among his childhood accomplishments was to master the entire corpus of Buffon’s works by the age of twelve, to begin a natural history collection and to found a scientific society with some friends. Montbéliard, originally part of Burgundy, had been subject to the duke of Württemberg and adopted the Lutheran faith during the Reformation. Cuvier’s parents intended that he become a Lutheran minister like his uncle, but he was unable to obtain a scholarship to study theology at Tübingen. Instead, the wife of the governor of Montbéliard recommended him to attend the Caroline University. He entered the University in 1784 at the age of fifteen and after two years of general studies, during which he learned German. Cuvier specialized in administrative, juridical and economic sciences, but the curriculum included a considerable amount of natural history. Cuvier’s zoology teacher the gifted twenty-year-old Karl Friedrich Kielmeyer became one of the founders of the German school of Naturphilosophie. Kielmeyer taught Cuvier the art of dissection, and probably also comparative anatomy, taught in Tübingen by J.F. Blumenbach.


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Lichtenstein, Heinrich F. (person)

No biographical history available for this identity.