A bookish science: Eighteenth-century botany and its use of books

  • DIETZ, Bettina (PI)

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    This project will address the fact that the knowledge-making process of eighteenth- century natural history, botany in particular, was as dependent on books as on herbaria and botanical gardens and examine widely-used practices of procuring, exchanging and working with botanical books. It also intends to analyse the epistemological function of the use of books and therefore of second-hand experience in a knowledge culture that has so far been defined as predominantly empirical.

    But even a cursory reading of the botanical correspondences of the eighteenth century makes it clear that, as a rule, botanical books were not available where they were needed. As work even on local and regional floras depended fundamentally on a wide and comparative use of literature, ways had to be found to make up for the deficiencies of the book market. This situation forced scholars to resort to personal contacts and use their correspondences for the exchange and acquisition of books. The functioning of this system will be described, from initial contacts with potential partners and the complicated logistics of shipping to the fact that the exchange of locally available books propelled the dynamics of international exchange. On the basis of the correspondence of leading eighteenth-century botanists, including Johann Jakob Dillenius, Nikolaus von Jacquin, and Carl Linnaeus, it will then be demonstrated that the exchange of books was a pillar of what can be called the collaborative publication system of botany. Scholars used the publications of others, incorporating material from them into their own work while making reference to the original author. Within the framework of this type of cooperation, an author sent his most recent writings to his partners as quickly as possible so that they could complete their own publications, which guaranteed him the same privilege in return.

    The constant procurement of books was, like the exchange of plants, an indispensable part of botanical work. This is why establishing and maintaining exchange relationships was vitally important for every scholar. It will be shown that everyone who took part in this international system of exchange had to submit to a code of behaviour which sanctioned the symmetry of gift and return gift and punished violations, thus guaranteeing the long-term functioning of a mechanism that was essential for all involved.
    Effective start/end date1/01/1731/12/19


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