Clergymen Abiding in the Fields: The Making of the Naturalist Observer in Eighteenth-Century Norwegian Natural History

Science in Context 24 (2):143-166 (2011)
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Abstract

ArgumentBy the mid-eighteenth century, governors of the major European states promoted the study of nature as part of natural-resource based schemes for improvement and economic self-sufficiency. Procuring beneficial knowledge about nature, however, required observers, collectors, and compilers who could produce usable and useful descriptions of nature. The ways governments promoted scientific explorations varied according to the form of government, the makeup of the civil society, the state's economic ideologies and practices, and the geographical situation. This article argues that the roots of a major natural history initiative in Denmark-Norway were firmly planted in the state-church organization. Through the clergymen and their activities, a bishop, supported by the government in Copenhagen, could gather an impressive collection of natural objects, receive observations and descriptions of natural phenomena, and produce natural historical publications that described for the first time many of the species of the north. Devout naturalists were a common species in the eighteenth century, when clergymen and missionaries involved themselves in the investigation of nature in Europe and far beyond. The specific interest here is in how natural history was supported and enforced as part of clerical practice, how specimen exchange was grafted on to pre-existing institutions of gift exchange, and how this influenced the character of the knowledge produced.

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