Founder’s Day Lecture

In the summer of 1732, the Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus journeyed through Lapland. His travel account is not only often cited as the earliest first-hand account of Lapland by a naturalist and ethnographer, but also known as a founding piece of Swedish literature. With its lively first-person narrative, a keen eye for empirical detail and animated portrayal of rural and nomadic life, it gives the impression of entering a new world. But Linnaeus was far from being the first to report on Lapland. Nor was he alone during his trip. Bureaucrats, pastors and reindeer herders hosted him during his trip, and he was always accompanied by local guides and translators. Focussing on accounts he gave of the parasitic fly species Hypoderma tarandi, or the reindeer warble fly, we will trace how Linnaeus used knowledge extracted from local informants to construct complex theories of the ecology and life history of particular species in later publications. This not only shows another side of Linnaeus as a gifted biologist, which has often been neglected by historians. It also shows how biological knowledge depends on field work that generates intersections among diverse cultures and languages.

 

Image © Linnean Society of London

Prof Staffan Müller-Wille FLS is an Associate Professor at the University of Exeter in the department for Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology. He is Associate Director of the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences (Egenis) and member of the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter. His research focuses on the history, philosophy and social studies of the life sciences. He has worked extensively on the history of taxonomy, with a focus on Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), and on the cultural history of heredity, including the history of race and kinship in anthropology.

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