Many evo-devo studies of the turtle's shell draw hypotheses and support from historical sources. The groundbreaking works of Cuvier, Geoffroy St. Hilaire, Carus, Rathke, Owen, and others are being revived in modern research, and their centuries-old understanding of the turtle's shell reconsidered. In the works of these eminent biologists of the 19th century, comparative anatomy and embryology of turtle morphology set the stage for future studies in developmental biology, histology, and paleontology. Given the impact that these works still make on modern research, it is important to develop a thorough appreciation of previous authors, regarding how they arrived at their conclusions (i.e., what counted as evidence?), whether there was debate amongst these authors about shell development (i.e., what counted as an adequate explanation?), and even why these men, some of the most powerful and influential thinkers and anatomists of their day, were concerned with turtles. By tracing and exposing the context and content of turtle shell studies in history, our aim is to inform modern debates about the evolution and development of the turtle's shell. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 324B: 169–180, 2015. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.