Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. He spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he later established his own school called the Lyceum. Aristotle wrote greater than 150 treatises on subjects ranging from aesthetics, politics, ethics, and natural philosophy, which include physics and biology. Less than fifty of Aristotle's treatises persisted into the twenty-first century. In natural philosophy, later called natural science, Aristotle established methods for investigation and reasoning and provided a theory on how embryos generate and develop. He originated the theory that an organism develops gradually from undifferentiated material, later called epigenesis.

Jane Maienschein is the daughter of Joyce Kylander and Fred Maienschein, and was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on 23 September 1950. She attended MIT as a freshman and then transferred to Yale University in 1969 when Yale decided to admit women undergraduates. In 1972 she graduated with an honors degree in History, the Arts, and Letters having written a thesis on the history of science. She then attended Indiana University and studied with historian of embryology Frederick B. Churchill, took courses with embryologist Rudolf Raff, and learned how to do embryological laboratory research with Robert Briggs. She received her MA in 1976 and a PhD in 1978, with a pre-doctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian to study the history of microscopes and microscopy, and an NSF-funded dissertation improvement visit to the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) to reproduce old embryological experiments and soak up the history and resources of the MBL Library and labs. Maienschein's scholarly research focuses on the history and philosophy of developmental biology.

Edward Stuart Russell was born 23 March 1887 to Helen Cockburn Young and the Reverend John N. Russell in Port Glasgow, Scotland. Friends and co-workers alike knew Russell as a quiet and focused, though always kind and helpful person. Trained in classics and biology, Russell's interests drew him to the study of historical and philosophical issues in the biological sciences, particularly morphology and animal behavior. According to Nils Roll-Hansen, Russell was one of the most influential philosophers of biology in the second third of the twentieth century. It was through history and philosophy, rather than his equally important work as a fisheries biologist, Russell argued that developmental and embryological studies deserve a central role in the biological sciences.

Aristotle's On the Generation of Animals is referred to in Latin as De Generatione animalium. As with many of Aristotle's writings, the exact date of authorship is unknown, but it was produced in the latter part of the fourth century B.C. This book is the second recorded work on embryology that is treated as a subject of philosophy, being preceded by contributions in the Hippocratic corpus by about a century. It was, however, the first work to provide a comprehensive theory of how generation works and an exhaustive explanation of how reproduction works in a variety of different animals. As such, De Generatione was the first scientific work on embryology. Its influence on embryologists, naturalists, and philosophers in later years was profound. Among these were Hieronymus Fabricius, William Harvey, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Charles Darwin.

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