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Problematic “Idiosyncrasies”: Rediscovering the Historical Context of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson's Science of Form

  • Maurizio Esposito (a1)
Argument

D’Arcy Thompson has often been portrayed as a loner. His science of form has frequently been labeled anachronistic, idiosyncratic, and unconnected to his contemporary biology. This article aims to challenge this interpretation. Thompson's representation as a loner did not lie in the idiosyncrasies of his science, but in our own historiography. Through the use of unedited archival sources, this study shows that Thompson's biology was well-connected to an international research program – a program mainly shared by developmental biologists, physiologists, and morphologists. In addition, this article also aims to propose a new interpretation of Thompson's On Growth and Form. Drawing on his private correspondence and published sources, the paper re-contextualizes the contents and conclusions of Thompson's seminal work. We will see that Thompson defended a particular kind of organismal biology. The bio-science he supported stemmed not only from Aristotle's zoology or Pythagorean mathematics, but had many allies among twentieth-century naturalists.

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