Botany Before Linnaeus: Investigations of Natural Life in Europe, c. 1660-1740

The early modern study of plants for medicinal and culinary purposes has received considerable scholarly attention. Much less, however, is known about those who, in the period immediately preceding Carl Linnaeus’s field-shaping works, investigated plants for other, less practical reasons. Using a wide range of texts that foreground the anatomy, physiology, nature, and status of vegetables, my current project seeks to explain the ascent and consolidation of non-medical botany in Europe from c. 1660 to 1740.

At the centre of my research are four influential yet severely neglected botanists: Nehemiah Grew, Stephen Hales, William Sherard, and Johann Jakob Dillenius. Not only do their printed works and unpublished correspondences, many of which are held at the Herzog August Bibliothek, divulge insights into what held together the pre-Linnaean res publica botanica, but they also shed light on why botany was able to function as a lynchpin between naturalistic and humanistic pursuits.