This essay aims at widening the predominant image of the Enlightenment as an era focussed on ,Enlightenment thinking', supplementing an intellectual history centred on the triad of ideas, authors and texts (more rarely books) with a perspective on agency. On the basis of natural history, Enlightenment is addressed as a repertoire of learned practices, which permitted and even called for the participation of a significantly larger group of people than has been assumed so far. First, it will be analyzed how a scientific project which aimed at a worldwide registration, description and classification of flora, fauna and minerals, involved innumerable actors in collecting, naming and describing mainly local natural objects. Doing natural history was not the same as writing natural history. This "grassroots learnedness" rooted in the very objects of nature was a crucial factor in turning natural history into a movement which saw itself as Enlightened. Secondly, the communicative dimension of natural history is examined. To a large extent, doing natural history consisted in exchanging specimens and scientific literature, which interconnected all persons involved, renowned scholars as well as anonymous amateurs, into extended networks of correspondence. As most of the participants had access to natural specimens and publications available in their particular geographical area, they could offer something of interest to others. In their profusion, these object-related correspondences reflect the local and the global dimension of doing natural history.
|Translated title of the contribution||Clarification as practice: Natural history in the 18th century|
|Number of pages||23|
|Journal||Zeitschrift fur Historische Forschung|
|Publication status||Published - 2009|
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