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Georges Cuvier (1769–1832)

Georges Cuvier was an eminent French naturalist and zoologist best known for establishing the scientific disciplines of comparative anatomy and palaeontology. A man from humble origins, born into a Protestant family, Cuvier excelled in his studies as a youth, becoming a tutor to a Protestant noble in Normandy after four years at the Caroline Academy in Stuttgart. From this position, which kept him at a distance from the more tumultuous events of the French Revolution, Cuvier established connections with the leading naturalists of his day, and in 1795 was appointed as a research assistant to the newly founded chair in comparative anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Shortly thereafter, Cuvier was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences within the Institut de France, from which point his success and reputation grew. In 1799 he was appointed professor at Collège de France, and became titular professor himself at the Jardin des Plantes in 1802. In 1806 he became a foreign member of the Royal Society in London, and was appointed to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1812. Cuvier’s scientific achievements are manifold. He was the first to establish extinction as a natural and historical fact, and his ’catastrophist’ theory of geology eventually won out over the gradualist theories of his contemporaries Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Étienne Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire. His best-known work is the Le Règne Animale (The Animal Kingdom, 1817).

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Georges Cuvier, ‘Progrès des sciences’, CpA 9.17 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • Rapport historique sur les progrès des sciences physiques depuis 1789 jusqu’en 1807 et sur leur état actuel... [1810]. Brussels: Culture and Civilisation, 1968.
  • The Animal Kingdom, arranged according to its organization, serving as a foundation for the natural history of the animals, and an introduction to comparative anatomy, trans. M. Latreille. London: G. Henderson, 1834. [Accessible online at the Internet Archive:]
  • Essay on the Theory of the Earth [1815], trans. Robert Kerr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.