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Systems, synonyms and strife – the making of European entomology around 1800

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Inspired by general developments in natural history, a growing academic interest in insects developed in late 18th-century Europe. The five decades between c.1760 and 1810 can be considered a very important era for the development of entomology as an academic subject. The advancement of and disputes on Linnaean systematics in botany and zoology caused paradigmatic changes in the pan-European perception, systematization and classification of insects. Additionally, an increasing number of hitherto unknown species filled the European cabinets and collections. Hence, natural historians, amateur collectors, noble enthusiasts and draughtsmen developed new systems of classification and communicated about their ‘objects’ in letters, articles, monographs and multi-volume series. Furthermore, many of the actors involved in this process also travelled widely and exchanged their knowledge and objects in direct or indirect contact with each other.

In my presentation I would like to analyse how knowledge on insects was created, communicated and debated. What were the most contentious issues? How and why did early entomology come up with a variety of ordering systems? What were the practices of collecting? Additionally, I would also like to reflect on the epistemological status of the specimens as well as the debates on amateurism and professionalization. Finally, I’d like to address how practitioners of entomology reflected on political and cultural contexts like colonialism and nationalism.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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