Biological Societies

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Biological Societies


voluntary scientific organizations that bring together biology specialists.

Foreign biological societies. The first attempts to create scientific societies not connected with universities, which were under the influence of the church, belong to the period of the Reformation and were realized in Italy. These societies were usually called academies after Plato’s Academy in ancient Greece. One of the earliest was the Academy of the Keen-Sighted as the Lynx (Accademia dei Lincei, 1603–30), created on the initiative and with the funds of Duke F. Cesi, who gathered about himself the greatest scientists of his time (including Galileo). The Academy of Experiment arose later in Florence (Accademia del Cimento, 1657–66), founded by L. and F. Medici. Biology problems were elaborated by the members of this academy—G. Borelli, F. Redi, and N. Steno. In the 17th century, academies, societies, and “collegia’’ modeled after the Italian academies were organized in England, France, and Germany. Later state academies were formed from them.

The oldest of the more specialized scientific societies, which usually had only local significance, was the Academy of Nature Lovers (Academia naturae curiosorum) in Schweinfurt (Germany, 1652), which was later renamed the Leopoldine Academy, moved to the city of Halle, and is still in existence today. In the 18th century, numerous societies of naturalists arose in various German and Swiss cities. At the Royal Society in England there was a Botanical Society (1721); later there arose the Society for the Promotion of Natural History (1782) and other biological societies. In 1788, one of the oldest and most authoritative biological societies was created in London for the preservation and elaboration of the heritage of C. Linnaeus—the Linnean Society. Here, on July 1, 1858, the first reports of C. Darwin and A. Wallace about the theory of natural selection, which they had originated, were read. In 1908, to mark the 50th anniversary of that theory, the Linnean Society instituted the Darwin-Wallace Medal, to be awarded to outstanding biologists of the world. The following were founded in the first half of the 19th century: the London Zoological Society (1826), which organized the London Zoo; the London Entomological Society (1833); the London Botanical Society (1836); and the Royal Botanical Society (1839), which created Regents Park and the Kew botanical gardens. In this same period, more specialized zoological and botanical societies such as the French (1832) and German (1856) entomological societies began to arise in other European countries. Today there exist numerous biological societies specializing in branches of zoology and botany. General-biological scientific societies began to emerge in the middle of the 19th century. The oldest is the Paris Biological Society (1848). Physiological societies arose in England (1876), the USA (1887), and Germany (1904). During the 20th century societies appeared in such fields as biochemistry (USA, 1906), ecology (Great Britain, 1913; USA, 1915), and genetics (American Genetic Association, 1903; English Genetic Society, 1919; American Society, 1922).

As early as the 19th century, along with specialized scientific societies, there were created societies and associations of a general scientific character for purposes of the popularization and dissemination of scientific knowledge by means of organizing national, and then international, conventions and congresses. The oldest biological society of this type, founded in 1822 on the initiative of L. Oken, is the Society of German Naturalists and Physicians, meeting annually. Foreign scientists may also participate in the congresses. The Associations for the Advancement of Science in England (1831) and the USA (1848) were modeled after this German one. More specialized associations of scientific societies also arose in the 20th century: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (1912), Union of American Biological Societies (1921), and others. Similar national associations are part of international unions created in the 1930’s and 1940’s for the purpose of calling international congresses, conferences, symposia, and the like and elaborating international programs of scientific research.

Biological societies in prerevolutionary Russia and the USSR. Even before the emergence of biological societies in Russia, the Russian Free Economic Society, founded in 1765, devoted considerable attention to biological problems. In 1805, on the initiative of G. Fischer von Waldheim, the Society of Naturalists was founded at Moscow University; its main purpose was to study the extant and fossil flora and fauna of Russia, especially those of Moscow Province. The Society of Lovers of Natural Science, Anthropology, and Ethnology, whose lectures and exhibits served as the basis for organizing the Moscow Polytechnical Museum, was founded in Moscow in 1864. In 1908 the society organized the Kosino Biological Station (near Moscow). Sharply intensified interest in natural science in the 1860’s fostered the creation of analogous societies at all universities. In 1868, K. F. Kessler founded the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists with divisions in the fields of botany, zoology, and physiology. The society organized an expedition to the coast of the White Sea and the Murmansk coast (1869), as a result of which the Solovetskaia Biological Station was organized (1881) by N. P. Vagner.

In 1869 the Kazan and Kiev societies of naturalists were formed. The Kiev Society organized the study of Black Sea fauna and published annual Ukazateli russkoi literatury po matematike i estestvoznaniiu (Indexes of Russian Literature on Mathematics and Natural Science, 1872–94). The Kharkov Society of Naturalists was created in 1869. In 1870 the Novorossiisk Society of Naturalists was founded (in Odessa). L. S. Tsenkovskii, I. I. Mechnikov, and A. O. Kovalevskii were members of it.

Specialization of the biological sciences in Russia brought about the organization of societies in various branches of biology; the oldest of them is the Russian Entomological Society, founded in St. Petersburg in 1859. The Russian Botanical Society was created in 1915. The I. M. Sechenov Society of Russian Physiologists and the Russian Paleontology Society were founded in 1916.

A fully developed network of societies in various scientific fields was formed only after the October Revolution. Development of socialist construction, which stimulated an unprecedented growth in Soviet science, caused the broadening of the purposes and scope of scientific biological societies. The most important contemporary biological societies are the Moscow Society of Naturalists, the Leningrad and Voronezh societies of naturalists, and also the all-Union societies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in the fields of biochemistry, botany, helminthology, hydro-biology, microbiology, soil science, protozoology, and entomology, as well as the I. P. Pavlov Physiological Society and the N. I. Vavilov Geneticists’ and Breeders’ Society. In addition, there are biological societies in Union republics and autonomous republics, as well as in oblasts and the like. Biological societies ensure the exchange of scientific experience and promote the development of advanced Soviet science and the incorporation of the latest scientific achievements into the work of socialist construction.


Varsanofeva, V. A. Moskovskoe obshchestvo ispytatelei prirody i ego znachenie v razvitii otechestvennoi nauki. Moscow, 1955.
Polveka zhizni Obshchestva liubitelei estestvoznaniia, antropologii i etnografii. [Moscow], 1913.
Ornstein, M. The Role of Scientific Societies in the 17th Century, [3rd ed.]. Chicago, 1938.
Gage, A. T. A History of the Linnean Society of London. London, 1938.
Handbook of Scientific and Technical Societies and Institutions of the United States and Canada, 5th ed. Washington, 1948.
Directory of Nature History and Other Field Study Societies in Great Britain. . . . London, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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