Books, Botany and the Understanding of Nature in Eighteenth-Century Cambridge
Many reading this abstract will be familiar with the New Museums Site in central Cambridge. However, prior to its development from the mid nineteenth century, this was the location of the Cambridge Botanical Garden. Founded between 1760 and 1763 on the grounds of the old Augustinian Priory and funded by a donation of £1600 from Dr. Richard Walker of Trinity College, the Botanic Garden remains one of the first major scientific initiatives established by the University of Cambridge. In 1762 Thomas Martyn (1735–1825) was appointed as the third Professor of Botany who immediately embarked upon arranging the Botanic Garden according to the new Linnaean system of classification that divided nature into kingdoms, classes orders genera and species; the first institution of its kind to be founded on Linnaean principles in Britain.
This talk examines how printed books and herbarium specimens, many of which are still held by Cambridge University Library and Cambridge University Herbarium, were used to manage information on the living plants in the Cambridge Botanic Garden between 1760 and 1820. This was the responsibility of Martyn and a succession of curators who navigated between the living plants, dried specimens and an annotated library of approximately 1000 volumes used to identify, classify, describe and arrange species represented in the garden and Martyn’s Botanical Museum. This system for managing information was designed to accommodate the increasing numbers of living plants, specimens and seeds Martyn and his curators received from a global network extending across the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, many of which they cultivated in the Cambridge Botanic Garden.