Article ID: CBB806685409

Revisiting Hans Böker’s "Species Transformation Through Reconstruction: Reconstruction Through Active Reaction of Organisms" (1935) (2021)


Against the common historiographic narratives of evolutionary biology, the first decades of the 20th century were theoretically far richer than usually assumed. This especially refers to the hitherto neglected role that early theoretical biologists played in introducing visionary research perspectives and concepts before the institutionalization of the Modern Synthesis. Here, we present one of these scholars, the German theoretical biologist and ecomorphologist Hans Böker (1886–1939), by reviewing his 1935 paper “Artumwandlung durch Umkonstruktion, Umkonstruktion durch aktives Reagieren der Organismen” ("Species Transformation Through Reconstruction: Reconstruction Through Active Reaction of Organisms"), published in the inaugural volume of the journal Acta Biotheoretica. While largely forgotten today, this work represents a melting pot of ideas that adumbrate some of today’s most lively debated empirical and conceptual topics in evolutionary biology: the active role of organisms as actors of their own evolution, environmental induction and phenotypic plasticity, genetic assimilation, as well as developmental bias. We discuss Böker’s views on how species change through (what he calls) "Umkonstruktion," and how such reconstruction is exerted through active reactions of organisms to environmental perturbations. In addition, we outline the aims and wider context of his "biological comparative anatomy," including Boker’s reprehensible political affiliation with the Nazi Party. Finally, we highlight some of the historical reasons for why Böker’s views did not have a larger impact in evolutionary biology, but we also recount some of the direct and indirect legacies of his approach in research areas such as ecomorphology and (Eco)EvoDevo. Böker’s paper is available as supplementary material in the online version of this article, as part of the journal's "Classics in Biological Theory" collection; the first translation of the paper into English, by Alexander Böhm and Jan Baedke, is also being published in this volume.

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Authors & Contributors
Krischel, Matthis
Fangerau, Heiner
Whiteside, Shaun
Stambolis, Barbara
Moll, Friedrich
Sammer, Christian
Biology and Philosophy
Medizinhistorisches Journal
Der Urologe
Social Science History
Journal of the History of Biology
European Association of Urology
Wallstein Verlag
W. W. Norton & Co.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
World War II
Science and politics
Evolutionary developmental biology
Medicine and politics
Haeckel, Ernst
Rothacker, Erich
Asperger, Hans
Escherich, Karl
Russell, Edward Stuart
Tinbergen, Nikolaas
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
United States
The German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians (DZVhA)

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