Chapter

Common Sense, Classification, and the Catalogue of Nature

in The Science of Describing

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780226620879
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226620862 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226620862.003.0005
Common Sense, Classification, and the Catalogue of Nature

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By the end of the sixteenth century, naturalists had developed a sophisticated technology of observation and description, a technology that allowed them to transmit local knowledge through precise description and communication. The very success of these techniques transformed the practice of natural history. Renaissance naturalists had been skeptical of monsters and mythical creatures, but they were willing to follow trustworthy authorities if their reports were plausible. Their desire to catalogue the world prevailed over their skepticism. Their seventeenth-century successors, overwhelmed by exotica as their predecessors had been by the European flora and fauna, took a harder line. They would eliminate whatever had not been seen by a trained eye and described by a skilled pen. In so doing, they carried the science of describing to its logical conclusion.

Keywords: technology of observation; Renaissance naturalists; local knowledge; communication; science of describing; flora and fauna

Chapter.  22978 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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