Early Citizen Science

How the public used Linnaean instructions to collect the World c. 1750-1850

Project Description

The purpose of this project is to generate and communicate a new understanding of how science developed through engagement between universities, museums and the lay public in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In so doing, the project will hopefully contribute both to the history of science and to contemporary debates about citizen science.

The project focuses on the influential Swedish-British tradition of scientific instructions. Instructions were at the centre of an Enlightenment desire to map and collect the natural world. Developed at a time when academics professionalised the study of nature by teaching it in university courses and placing it in scientific categories, instructions were designed to simultaneously encourage and control citizen science by instructing lay people how to collect and record the natural world. It will excavate a significant transnational tradition of instructed collecting that developed out of the instructions of the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus.  These instructions were composed in the 1740s and 1750s and remained popular until the middle of the nineteenth century. Existing scholarship has discussed these instructions in relation to Linnaeus’s travelling students but it has not examined their wider social and international impact on the development of knowledge and collecting. The project will therefore break new ground by charting and investigating the wide social circulation and uptake of Linnaean instructions in Britain and its Empire.

British society was at the forefront of the international translation and dissemination of Linnaean natural history during the period c. 1750-1850. In contrast to earlier research, which has focused on the uptake of Linnaean natural history by British elites, this project will analyse how a wide range of British informants adopted Linnaean instructions. These included merchants, landowners, soldiers, maritime personnel, ministers, colonial officials and missionaries operating both domestically and throughout the expanding British Empire under the direction of leading Linnaean naturalists working at British universities and/or active in scientific societies.

Bullock's Museum (Egyptian Hall or London Museum), 1810, detail. Credit: Wellcome Collection, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

About the Project

Project Duration



Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation