Linnaeus' Life and AchievementsCarl Linnaeus is the most well-known Swedish scientist, both internationally and in Sweden. He has left traces in many ways: there are places that bear his name, there are locations on the Moon that have been named after him, he is depicted on Swedish banknotes, and "Linnea" is a popular first name for girls in Sweden. Carl Linnaeus placed his stamp on a complete era of scientific history - the Linnaean era. The Linnaean era is characterised by an ambition to catalogue, organise and give names to the whole natural world.
Linnaeus is probably best known as a botanist, and for his sexual system. His scientific achievements, however, also extend into the mineral world and zoology, in addition to botany. He was curious about the complete natural world, and wanted to map the whole of nature. This mapping has given us the naming convention known as the "binary nomenclature", that Linnaeus introduced. Linnaeus published a number of rule-books on which the system was based, and the system, after some initial resistance, has come not only to dominate natural history, but also to influence other scientific fields. Linnaeus clarifies language, he bases his science on a rigid terminology, formulates the concept of species and sets the broad dimensions of natural history. Humans in his system, for example, are known as Homo sapiens and they are primates in the class of mammals, Mammalia, - all of these are names and concepts that Linnaeus coined.
The Linnaean Conceptual Structure
The Linnaean conceptual structure has become popular both within the academic world and among hobbyists. The concept has spread throughout the world, initially by those known as the "Linnaean apostles", a group of disciples who reached farther afield throughout the world than any Swedes had previously reached. Their deaths in far-flung places carry a hint of heroism, they died for the sake of science. The continued influence of Linnaeus has stimulated scientific journeys, cataloguing and strange destinies, but it has also had a more calm interaction with nature at many places across the globe, with its placid nature of collection and systematic thought. Linnaeus creativity and sense of curiosity has left traces not only in science but also in literature and in other fields of culture.
Linnaeus' papers show a Sweden of long ago, and enable one to understand how the country has changed. The locations that are closely associated with Linnaeus place a special care on preserving his memory - his birthplace in Småland, the school in Växjö, and the universities, initially in Lund, later in Uppsala - to which he as faithful throughout his life. We can approach Linnaeus very closely by reading the many letters, documents and objects that have been preserved, and by visiting the places where he lived. We can feel his charm, and we can sense that this complex man had other sides to his nature.
The Spirit of Linnaeus lives on
Linnaeus left a rich heritage, and a living one. It grows and changes continuously. For example, it is pertinent today to draw attention to his interest in economics, known at the time as "housekeeping", and how economics will always be associated with what we now call "ecology", which Linnaeus knew as "the economics of nature". Our current understanding of Linnaeus is not only that of a successful scientific innovator, but also a person who had to come to terms with success, and who brooded over the meaning of life.
It is important during the anniversary not only to raise monuments, but also to create understanding for a way of thinking that remains relevant today. The anniversary is to draw attention to the fascinating person that was Carl Linnaeus, and inspire to creativity, curiosity and science in Linnaeus' spirit.
Written by Gunnar Broberg
All information on this web site is from the Linnaeus Tercentenary year of 2007 and has not been updated since. If using texts from this web site, please refer to Linnaeus2007 as the source.
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