Posts tagged ‘natural science’

Peter Collinson and the Eighteenth-Century Natural History Exchange (American Philosophical Society Memoir 264, ISBN: 9780871692641)

Peter Collinson and the Eighteenth-Century Natural History Exchange
(American Philosophical Society Memoir 264, ISBN: 9780871692641)
by Jean O’Neill and Elizabeth P. McLean
(Paperback, 216 pages, 2008, $75.00)

Peter CollinsonCollinson’s life is a microcosm of 18th-century natural history. A gardener and naturalist by avocation, he was what we would now call a facilitator in natural science, disseminating botanical and horticultural knowledge during the Enlightenment.

He influenced the Comte de Buffon and Linnaeus. He found clients for the Philadelphia naturalist John Bartram. American plants populated great estates like those of the Dukes of Richmond, Norfolk, and Bedford, as well as the Chelsea Physic Garden, and the nurseries of James Gordon and Robert Furber. Botanic painters such as Mark Catesby and Georg Dionysius Ehret painted American plants in Collinson’s garden.

He had an unprecedented effect on the exchange of scientific information on both sides of the Atlantic, being credited for introducing more than 150 plans to horticulture. Illustrations.

“One man can make a difference,” co-author Elizabeth McLean tells Green Scene [PDF] in the September/October 2009 issue. “[Collinson] did it for love. He was self-educated, yet he made enormous contributions to natural history in the eighteenth century.”

This book has been indexed by H.W. Wilson in their “Essay and General Literature Index” for June 2009.

H.W. Wilson writes: “These essays describe the life and achievements of the Quaker Peter Collinson, an 18th century London draper and naturalist whose interest in horticulture led him to establish contact with the Philadelphia Quaker farmer and naturalist John Bartram and to import Bartram’s American plants to England.

“The consequent popularity of American plants in English gardens, reflected even in the botanic paintings of the period, have earned Collinson a place in the history of botany as a facilitator between English and American horticulture.”

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July 4, 2010 at 2:18 am Leave a comment

Lionel Gossman’s Towards a Rational Historiography (American Philosophical Society Transaction 73-5, ISBN: 142237467X)

Towards a Rational Historiography
(American Philosophical Society Transaction 79-3, ISBN: 142238196X)
by Lionel Gossman (Paperback, 68 pages, 1989, $25.00)

Towards a Rational Historiography

Author Lionel Gossman maintains that underlying the argument that historiography cannot be subsumed under a poetics or a rhetoric (in the sense of a system of purely linguistic or literary tropes) is a larger claim, namely that a wide range of activities, from literary criticism, through legal debate, theology, ethics, politics, psychology, and medicine to the natural sciences, all constitute rational practices, even if there is considerable variation in the degree of formalism and rigor and in the type of argument most commonly employed in each of these different of fields of inquiry.

See the Google Preview: Towards a Rational Historiography of this book before you purchase it.

Hence Gossman emphasizes the practice or process of doing history rather than the product. What appeals to him in the idea of reason as a practice is its open, liberal, and democratic character. Historiography as a rational practice supposes a community of participants rather than the “anomie” of a world in which every man is his own historian or, at best, the relation of hero and follower that appears to be implied by privileging the historical “text.”

“In a 1963 essay on Voltaire’s History of Charles XII,” author Lionel Gossman tells the American Philosophical Society, “I had argued, in reaction to the seemingly entrenched positivism of the historical profession, that in constructing their narratives historians use the same literary figures and tropes as writers of fiction.

“After the publication of Hayden White’s groundbreaking Metahistory by the Johns Hopkins University Press (of whose editorial board I was then a member), I became associated with a group of historians, philosophers, and literary scholars, who were putting forward similar arguments.

“Soon, however, as often happens, what had been a challenging, critical position became a new orthodoxy. My students seemed to believe that there was no difference at all between history and fiction.

“I was convinced there was and I began to argue that modern history at least was a problem-solving rather than a myth-making activity, an ongoing process of criticism and revision, which could never, certainly, result in a representation of past reality but which in fact neither aimed nor claimed to offer that.

“I suggested that we consider historical narrative as closer to the competing evidence-based narratives presented in a court of law than to literary fictions. Towards a Rational Historiography was my attempt to stake out a position that was neither naively positivist nor completely skeptical.”

Edward Berenson writes in his book The Trial of Madame Caillaux: “Unlike many recent critics of historians and historical practice, especially those influenced by French literary theory, Gossman grounds his discussion in a solid sense of what historians ‘actually do’, not just when they write their narratives but when they perform their research, integrate and evaluate the work of others, revise and reconceptualize their scholarship in the face of new evidence and critical scrutiny.”

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June 30, 2010 at 10:29 pm Leave a comment


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