Literary creation and biological knowledge in the 19th Century

‘Biolographies – literary creation and biological knowledge in the 19th Century’ is a joint project between the National Research Agency (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG), led by Gisèle Séginger in collaboration with the University of Freiburg. It is intended to be a benchmark study on the impact of biological knowledge in French 19th Century literary output, developed from the point of view of an interdisciplinary literary critique.


Biolographies aims to fill a major gap, and the study is aimed both at literature specialists and culture and science historians. We propose to provide a major new representative inventory of literary works that deal with biological knowledge, looking at both major and minor works, published books and private writings or drafts. Textual analyses and mass studies will be carried out of the documents, with three objectives:

  • to understand the ways and channels through which the writers learnt this knowledge;
  • to analyse the uses and functions of biological knowledge within the works, from several points of view: a thematic point of view (what do they talk about and with what epistemological inflections?); a pragmatic point of view (to what effect to they use this knowledge?) and from the point of view of form (how is the knowledge dealt with from a literary point of view, narrative or poetic productivity, the structural effects of the knowledge). To do this, we will also need to identify the ideological and rhetorical importance of this knowledge (the use of biology serves wider philosophical, racial, political and aesthetic arguments).
  • to model the correspondence in terms of time and concepts between the history of science and  the history of literature.


The decision to present the project as part of the Foundation’s Franco-German programmes is justified by the nature of the subject: without ignoring other foreign influences, many of which have been more widely studied (Darwin, for example), this study would not be possible were it not for the considerable impact of German scientists (Haeckel in particular) on French writers.


Projet sélectionné AAP franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales, édition 2013

To know more about it, consult the carnet de recherche du programme sur



Gisèle Seginger (Université Paris Est Marne-la-Vallée)
Thomas Klinkert (Universität Freiburg, Allemagne)


Published at 13 December 2016