The Botanizers: Amateur Scientists in Nineteenth-Century America

By Elizabeth B. Keeney | Go to book overview

Introduction

After rising to fashion during the 1820s, botany rapidly became the most popular science in America for recreational and pedagogical purposes, and it remained such throughout the century. Tens of thousands of enthusiasts embraced botanizing by collecting, identifying, and preserving specimens. Clubs, correspondence networks, specimen exchanges, and specialized publications arose to meet the demand for botanical culture. Young and old, rural and urban, male and female, joined together in pursuit of the natural history of plants.

The pathways through which specimens and information flowed included beginner and expert alike. While an increasingly influential few made science a lifework, the vast majority of members of the botanical community used science as a pastime. Without formal scientific training or employment, and with a deeper commitment to self-improvement than to the advancement of science, these botanizers, as they called themselves, had priorities and interests that differed from those of the nascent professionals. Yet while these differences led to disagreements over systems of classification and scientific standards, the botanical community managed to maintain a spirit of cooperation and collegiality for most of the nineteenth century. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the botanizers' focus on self-improvement had become incompatible with the professionals' interest in advancing science and their desire or need to seize autonomy and authority. Botanizers and professionals had drifted so far apart that neither group any longer considered botanizers to be members of the scientific community.

Despite the obvious importance of these changes, we know very little about the process of professionalization in general, and we know far less about the case of botany in particular, or the individuals involved in it. The accounts we do have view the change from the perspective of those who remained within the fold--that is, the professionals. This study takes a different frame of reference, that of those who do not fit today's conception of scientists: namely, the amateurs. The change can be readily illustrated by contrasting two

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The Botanizers: Amateur Scientists in Nineteenth-Century America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Botanizing 9
  • 2 - Information Networks in the Botanical Community 22
  • 3 - Botanizing and Self-Improvement 38
  • 4 - Children, Education, and Amateur Botany 51
  • 5 - Gender and Botany 69
  • 6 - Botanizing and the Invention of Leisure 83
  • 7 - Natural Theology and Amateur Botany 99
  • 8 - Botany and the Rhetoric of Utility 112
  • 9 - The Triumph of Professionalization 123
  • 10 - The Nature-Study Movement: The Legacy of Amateur Botany 135
  • Couclusion 146
  • Notes 151
  • Index 197
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