Willi Hennig

Michael Schmitt m.schmitt at UNI-BONN.DE
Fri May 14 14:26:28 CDT 1999

Dear Colleagues,

the present thread on the possible importance of Daniele Rosa on the early
history of phylogenetic systematics touches one of my favourite fields of
interest. As I have circulated in an earlier message to this list (of 16
December, 1998), I have prepared a biographical article on Willi Hennig.
For this purpose, I studied Willi Hennig's private correspondence, kept by
his widow (according to his eldest son, Prof. Wolfgang Hennig, his mother
had given me access to the complete set of letters and documents housed at
Willi Hennig's home). And I went through Willi Hennig's official
correspondence, housed at Staatliches Museum fuer Naturkunde, Stuttgart. In
addition, I interviewed a number of persons who knew Willi Hennig from
different periods of his life (I have never met him, nor Leon Croizat).

>From my sources of information (it goes without saying that I have read
Willi Hennig's publications) I can say that there is no indication that
Willi Hennig had any notice of Daniele Rosa's ideas prior to the
publication of his "Grundzuege einer Theorie der Phylogenetischen
Systematik" in 1950. To the contrary, it seems quite clear that he
developed his method in close contact with Wilhelm Meise and Klaus Guenther
(that time at Dresden Museum fuer Tierkunde) years before his staying in
Italy during World War II (BTW: he was in a British Camp for Prisoners of

>From his last assistant at Stuttgart Museum, Dieter Schlee, I learned that
Willi Hennig's wife Irma (who had studied Biology for two years) provided
him with excerpts from scientific publications on his request through
letters. However, these letters obviously do not exist any more.

When reading Leon Croizat's contribution on "Hennig (1966) entre Rosa
(1918) y Lovtrup (1977): medio siglo de 'sistematica filogenetica'", it
became clear to me that there is more in this debate than simply a
scientific difference between two papers or methods. However, it is
difficult to prove or disprove most of the arguments given since there is
hardly any substantiation of the numerous insinuations conveying the actual

To those colleagues planning to attend the HENNIG XVIII meeting: The
organizers invited me to present a lecture on Willi Hennig's early
scientific career, while Willi Xylander will talk on Willi Hennig's family
background, childhood, and youth. In addition, Rainer Willmann will outline
a view on Willi Hennig as a person (this is what I heard from him).

                                    Michael Schmitt

* Dr. Michael Schmitt (Zoologischer Anzeiger, Managing Editor) *
* Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig  *
* Adenauerallee 160, D-53113 Bonn, Germany                     *
* Phone/Fax +49 228-9122 286, e-mail: m.schmitt at uni-bonn.de    *
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