Author Archive

On the History of the Zoological Museum Amsterdam

Posted in museum on September 28, 2011 by Eulàlia Gassó

After the fusion of the ZMA and the National Herbarium Nederland with Naturalis to form the NCB Naturalis, the new institution is paying a tribute to the long and interesting past of the ZMA and its collections. The tribute takes the form of an exhibition, “Naturalia. From Fairground Attraction to Scientific Object“, wich will be open to the public from the 14th of October and until 19th of Augustus 2012.


Next to the exhibition, the former director of the ZMA, dr. Sandrine Ulenberg, commissioned the publication of a book on the rich treasures and history of the ZMA. The book, in Dutch, is entitled “Duizend en meer verhalen op sterk water; 13 miljoen dieren” and will appear shortly.


How damaging are labels, actually?

Posted in miscellaneous on April 5, 2011 by Eulàlia Gassó

I find lots of labels on 19th century natural history. I refer of “Baconian science”, “Humboldtian science”, “utilitarian science”, or even “pre-darwinian natural history”. To me, these labels constrain our understanding of natural history instead of guiding us through the changes it underwent. The naturalists of the period (think of our own heroes, Reinwardt, Temminck, the Sarasin’s or the members of the Natuurkundige Commissie) defy these “one-size-fits-all” categories. I’m not even sure Humboldt would have liked the term “Humboldtian science” (as Susan Faye Cannon defined it in 1978). Even the practices we label as “field science” and “museum science” are connected and intertwined, often combined in a single naturalist who probably never thought in these terms himself.

So here’s one for you: does it help history of science to categorize these different practices (and therefore, to establish limits around them) according to how (“Humboldtian”) and where (“field”) science was being carried out, or should we focus on more on disciplines? By “disciplines” I mean the what that science was interested in. In the case of zoology, for example, I’m thinking of describing and classifying (taxonomy), studying structure (anatomy), understanding processes (physiology), understanding geographical patterns (biogeography), and so on. This are modern terms, I know, but it seems to me that every one of our heroes had a very clear idea about which of these disciplines belonged to his kingdom, and which did not. These “disciplines” were forming from the end of the 18th century on, and were defined around the 1840’s.

You might want to read this for a discussion: