Networked names: Co-authoring nomenclature in eighteenth-century botany

  • DIETZ, Bettina (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project explores far-reaching forms of co-authorship in late seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century botanical nomenclature that resulted from the necessity of procuring and processing ever-growing amounts of information. To this end two interrelated, but so far largely unresearched scholarly practices will be investigated: first, the collaborative identification of so-called synonyms, that is, different names given to a plant by different botanists in the absence of a binding nomenclature, in a process that took up a considerable amount of every botanist’s time; and second, the widespread phenomenon of posthumously publishing the botanical manuscripts and illustrations that were left behind after a scholar’s death. Often several consecutive authors were involved in a publishing process whose aim was less to make the material available to the botanical community in an original version than to update, correct and rearrange it, especially the synonyms. The resulting layering of information shaped not only the appearance of the published text, but also a concept of scientific authorship. Botanical names were an assemblage of contributions by many; the botanical author was a ‘composite’.

This three-year project will show, first, that the comparative process of identifying synonyms required and generated an ever-expanding mass of data, which was used continuously to supplement and rearrange plant names. The primary sources of information were botanical publications, including the illustrations they contained, and botanical correspondence. Second, it will argue that although the greatest care was taken, work on synonyms was never entirely free of errors, which meant that the lists of synonyms and the taxonomical classification of plants had to be constantly corrected. This required long-term international collaborations, the aggregated results of which were published in continuously updated versions or editions of a text.

Third, it will argue that these collaborations resulted in far-reaching forms of co- authorship. Case studies on the posthumous publication of Charles Plumier’s (1646- 1704) and Paul Hermann’s (1646-1695) papers by the Dutch botanist Johannes Burman (1707-1780) and others will trace how editors, correspondents, and translators all contributed to collecting, updating, and correcting information on plant names. Synonymies were co-authored through an international and intergenerational process of information layering. And, fourth, the project will demonstrate that this networked approach generated networked names that reflect the epistemic interconnectedness of the botanical community.
Effective start/end date1/08/1931/01/23


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