Catalogue description Supplementary catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Nikolaas Tinbergen FRS, (1907-1988), ethologist

This record is held by Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections

Details of NCUACS 79.8.98
Reference: NCUACS 79.8.98
Title: Supplementary catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Nikolaas Tinbergen FRS, (1907-1988), ethologist

This catalogue of papers of Nikolaas Tinbergen is a supplement to that compiled in 1991 (NCUACS 27/3/91). Section B (Research) has been arranged and numbered to follow the sequence of the previous catalogue, which should therefore be consulted in conjunction with this catalogue. Papers relating to Tinbergen's societies and organisations and visits and conferences files (not represented in the original collection) form two new sections in the supplementary catalogue, section F (Societies and organisations) and section G (Visits and conferences).


Section B, Research, is made up of research funding papers from the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford covering the period 1959 to 1975. The papers illustrate not only Tinbergen's personal research areas but also his interests in the production of scientific films as an educational tool, the advancement of ethological studies in general and the application of ethological principles to the study of mankind. The papers include correspondence, application forms, reports and financial statements. Research funding bodies with which Tinbergen dealt include the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Science Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the Nature Conservancy and the United States Air Force, European Office of Aerospace Research, Brussels, Belgium.


Section F, Societies and organisations documents a number of the national and international bodies with which Tinbergen was associated 1964-1974. The papers show Tinbergen operating at a national and international level. There are papers relating to Tinbergen's acceptance of an invitation to join the Board of Directors of the Centre Royaumont pour une science de l'homme which covers the period 1973 to 1974. The Department of Science and Industrial Research (from 1965 the Science Research Council) papers relate to Tinbergen's membership of the Working Party in Animal Behaviour Research. The papers cover the period 1962 to 1967. This group reviewed the state of animal behaviour research in Britain and put forward recommendations on the future course that should be taken. Tinbergen's Nuffield Foundation papers relate to his participation in the Nuffield Foundation funded Science Teaching Project as a member of the School Biology Project Consultative Committee. The papers cover the period 1961 to 1971. During his period of membership, from 1962 to 1967, Tinbergen took part in developing O-level and A-level biology courses and the papers reflect his views on the teaching of biology, in particular animal behaviour.


Tinbergen's Royal Society papers indicate the level of his formal activity within the Royal Society. The material covers the period 1963 to 1968. He was also a participant in a specialised Royal Society group that discussed current research in non-verbal communication in animals and man. The Serengeti Research Institute papers cover the period 1954 to 1975 and relate to Tinbergen's part in the foundation of the Institute and to his subsequent involvement with it.


Section G, Visits and conferences, consists mainly of correspondence relating to the organisation of the biannual International Ethological Conference, covering the period 1962-1970. There is much material relating to conference details such as selection of venues, themes, speakers and delegates. There is also a group of photographs featuring delegates of the Fourteenth International Ornithological Congress, Oxford, 1966. Tinbergen was the Secretary General of the Congress.


(Compiled by: Adrian Nardone and Peter Harper)


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


The Biochemical Society


The Geological Society


The Higher Education Funding Council for England


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


Trinity College, Cambridge


The Wellcome Trust




We are grateful to the Department of Zoology and the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford for making the material available and to Professor M.S. Dawkins for her advice.

Date: 1959-1975
Held by: Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Tinbergen, Nikolaas, 1907-1988, ethologist and scientist

Physical description: 181 items
Access conditions:


















Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received in October 1998 from the Department of Zoology via the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Administrative / biographical background:

Nikolaas ('Niko') Tinbergen was born in The Hague, Netherlands on 15 April 1907. After secondary school he spent a couple of months in autumn 1925 at the Rositten observatory, East Prussia which pioneered the scientific ringing of birds. This experience of biological fieldwork persuaded him to study zoology at the University of Leiden. In 1931 he was appointed 'assistant' in the Leiden Zoology Department and in 1932 he was awarded his PhD for homing studies on Philanthus wasps. Married in 1932, Tinbergen and his wife spent fourteen months in Greenland studying the snow bunting, the red-necked phalarope and the husky. Returning to Leiden he taught experimental zoology and animal behaviour until 1949, by which time he was Professor and Head of Department. His career was interrupted during the Second World War when he was imprisoned as a hostage by the German occupation authorities. In 1949 he resigned his Professorship at Leiden and accepted a lecturership in A.C. Hardy's department at Oxford University, where he remained for the rest of his career. He was appointed Professor of Animal Behaviour in 1966 and retired in 1974.


Tinbergen was one of the founding fathers of modern ethology. At Leiden he developed laboratory work, in which the three-spined stickleback proved a particularly successful experimental animal, and field studies initiating projects on wasps, butterflies and hobbies. His work on the breeding behaviour of herring gulls also dates from this period and, like the stickleback research, became one of the classics of ethology. He spent spring 1937 working with Konrad Lorenz at Altenberg near Vienna, Austria, an association that was to have the greatest importance for their science. After the move to Oxford, Tinbergen built up a research group that had a profound influence on the development of ethology around the world. In particular, his research focused on the adaptedness of behaviour, the work on the herring gull initiated in the Netherlands developed into comparative studies of many gull species. His most influential book, The Study of Instinct appeared in 1951 and he also wrote books for the educated layman and made scientific films such as the Italia prizewinner 'Signals for Survival'. Examples of significant professional affiliations include the International Ethological Conferences held biannually from 1951 and the Serengeti Research Institute, Tanzania established 1966. Tinbergen became increasingly interested in the application of the ethological approach to man, and in retirement he and his wife collaborated on a study of childhood autism publishing Autistic children - new hope for a cure in 1983.


Tinbergen was elected FRS in 1962 and in 1973 he shared with Lorenz and Karl von Frisch the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He died on 21 December 1988.

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