IntroductionEgenis Research Fellow Dr Staffan Müller-Wille presented a paper at the 6th meeting of the International Research Group "Science and Technology in the European Periphery" which took place in Istanbul from 18-22 June.
The meeting brought together scholars studying the transfer and appropriation of scientific and technological knowledge in countries outside the usual purview of science studies.
Dr Müller-Wille’s paper was entitled ‘The Buffon-Linnaeus Controversy: A One-Sided Affair’. (Read the abstract, below.) Staffan has a strong interest in the history and philosophy of Early Modern natural history. In his dissertation project, he focused on the work of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the founder of modern biological taxonomy. Linnaeus was the first to introduce the distinction between artificial and natural classifications of organisms. The results of Staffan’s dissertation have been published in a book and a . Staffan also wrote the introduction to a new English translation of one of Linnaeus’ key works, Musa Cliffortiana, published earlier this year.The programme for the 6th STEP meeting sets out its aims.
‘The Buffon-Linnaeus Controversy: A One-Sided Affair’ - Abstract
Historians of natural history have directed a lot of attention to the debate between the eighteenth-century naturalists Georges Buffon and Carolus Linnaeus about taxonomic and nomenclatorial procedures. The significance of a curious asymmetry in this “debate” has nevertheless escaped historians. Linnaeus never publicly answered Buffon’s attacks. In my paper I want to explain this asymmetry, as well as the stark stylistic differences between Buffon and Linnaeus, by the different places they occupied in the institutional geography of natural history. Buffon, as director of the Jardin de Roi in Paris, worked from within one of the largest metropolitan collections in Europe, and sought to disseminate knowledge from this central position. Linnaeus, on the other hand, worked in Uppsala and was situated in a relatively peripheral position within learned Europe. In contrast to Buffon, he therefore had to attract and articulate knowledge from a far-flung network of correspondents and travelling students. Over their respective careers, these positions gradually changed, and the stylistic and methodological divide that separated them was gradually diminished. While Buffon and his collaborators gradually realized the importance of collectors’ networks, Linnaeus began to occupy a more and more central position in the world of natural history, almost becoming a global institution in himself. Initial enthusiasm for Linnaean natural history, especially widespread in provincial and extra-European settings, was gradually replaced by criticisms of its imperialist nature.