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: http://science.jrank.org/pages/49151/Humboldtian-science.html

Collect and Connect: A Blog on Nineteenth Century Natural History

Posted in miscellaneous on March 31, 2011 by Collect & Connect

This blog aims at providing a platform for sharing information in the field history of Natural History with a special focus on the nineteenth century. The scope of this blog is wide-ranging: beside theoretical reflections, we are interested in recently published monographs and articles, upcoming conferences, interesting sources, available online ressources, etc. …