Skip to Main Content

Ernst Haeckel - Artforms in Nature: Panel 3

A research guide accompanying the Ernst Haeckel illustrations exhibit in the Dartmouth library. Each panel of the exhibit asks the viewers to reflect on different aspects of Haeckel's work.

Panel 3 Racist Anthropology

Ernst Haeckel Panel - 3 Racist Anthropology

The Trouble with Haeckel 

I: Racist anthropology

While Hæckel’s work as an artist has remained popular and admired to the present day, his reputation as a biologist and theoretician is widely criticized by academics. Haeckel’s illustrations and work on human evolution (especially his classification of humans in 12 different species) were a harbinger for ideas of white supremacy and eugenics. In his own words, “That immense superiority which the white race has won over the other races in the struggle for existence is due to Natural Selection.” 

American historian, Daniel Gasman says of Haeckel, “His reluctance to firmly demarcate clear and acceptable boundaries between science and speculation, often led to a recurring and profound sense of disquiet among his many contemporaries.” (Gasman, 2002). For further discussion of this controversy, see Gasman’s Haeckel’s scientific monism as theory of history and Robert J. Richards’s The Tragic Sense of Life. 

Caption for tree image: illustration, "Pedigree of Man"

Ernst Haeckel, The Evolution of Man: A Popular Exposition of the Principal Points of Human Ontogeny and Phylogeny. Vol II. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879.  plate XV

Caption for map image: Ernst Haeckel, "Hypothetical sketch of the monophylitic origin and of the diffusion of the 12 varieties of men from Lemuria over the earth," 1876.

Haeckle's map of earth placing the origins of human beings at "Paradise" on the sunken continent of "Lemuria'' in the Indian Ocean between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, and showing the migration routes across the entire globe. (Library of Congress, Photo, Print, and Drawing collection, online catalog.)

Caption for large image: Actiniae – Seeanemonen. Illustration showing a variety of sea anemones. Adolf Giltsch, lithographer. Ernst Haeckel, artist

For more discussion of Haeckel’s evolutionary theory and its implications see our Ernst Haeckel Research Guide at .

Further Reading

Breidbach, O. (2000). Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology. Daniel Gasman. Isis, 91(3), 602–603.

Forrester, S. (2020). Ernst Haeckel’s ‘Kant Problem’: Metaphysics, science, and art. Biology & Philosophy, 35(2), 27.

Gasman, D. (2002). Haeckel’s scientific monism as theory of history. Theory in Biosciences, 121(3), 260–279.

Gasman, D. (2021). Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology. Peter Lang Publishing.

Hoßfeld, U., Watts, E., & Levit, G. S. (2017). The First Darwinian Phylogenetic Tree of Plants. Trends in Plant Science, 22(2), 99–102.

Kjærgaard, P. C. (2011). The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought. HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 1(1), 149–152.

Levit, G. S., & Hossfeld, U. (2020). Ernst Haeckel, Nikolai Miklucho-Maclay and the racial controversy over the Papuans. Frontiers in Zoology, 17(1), 16.

Marks, J. (2019). The Coevolution of  human origins, human variance, and their meaning in the nineteenth century. Zygon®, 54(1), 246–251.

Wolpoff, M. H., & Caspari, R. (1997). Race and Human Evolution. Simon and Schuster.