Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I must be getting old or something, because I was never interested in the history of science and now I actually find it fairly compelling.  Possibly because at first the characters were presented as distinguished intellectuals, and it's only recently that I have discovered that they were all quite insane.

So, with that, I present Linnaeus. An 18th century botanist who lived and worked in Uppsala (Sweden), where I found myself on yet another collections visit.

Wax statue of Linnaeus, Riksmuseet Stockholm.
 I know the picture's blurry, but he's holding a torso-sized pipe

 In undergrad, I learned that Linnaeus was the man behind the Latin binomial system for naming living things. Uppsala is all about Linnaeus. He even gets credited for the work of Celsius (also working in Uppsala)- silly Celsius! He had water boiling at 0 degrees and freezing at 100! Linnaeus had to correct his work, of course.

Although like any good nobleman in the 1700s Linnaeus owned several homes and estates, it was his townhouse in Uppsala that I went to visit.

Linnaeus held the 18th C equivalent of labs in his garden. The house is in the far left.
The structures on poles that look like birdhouses were actually to house his monkeys.
Linnaeus had 'disciples' (grad students) whom he sent on expeditions all over the world to disseminate his naming system, and more importantly, to collect specimens to ship back to Uppsala for him to name and describe. In addition to not getting credit for their work, the mortality rate among the disciples was fairly elevated. After his death, Linnaeus' collections and illustrations were sold at auction to an English buyer . . . which is how the Linnaean Society came to be located in London and not in Sweden.
'Lake Garden', Linnaeus house. Now with newts.
In spite of loving monkeys, Linnaeus hated salamanders and was of the opinion that they were vermin. To exterminate them, he prescribed dumping salt in lakes, ponds and streams. In poetic justice, his garden is now home to a thriving population of crested newts.

No comments:

Post a Comment