...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Inventive inventions #3: Taxonomy

Summer had officially ended last Saturday and I have two summer-themed backlogs yet to write about: my summer reading list, and Linnaeus the "flower man". I guess I better write about the latter first, before it gets too cold outdoors to grow any flowers at all. Incidentally, it is also Carlous Linnaeus' 300th anniversary this year (the anniversary month was last May, I believe), so it's about time to have some space for him here before the year actually draws to a close. It's soon -ber months after all.

It just occurred to me again how Sweden really isn't one of those countries you first think of at the mention of Europe. Take these scientists, for example. Einstein elicits images of Germany and Marie Curie is associated with France (but did you know she was born in Poland?). I even correctly remembered from 3rd year Chemistry that Mendel was an Austrian, but Linnaeus' country of origin was missed even by Kristine, who studied biology. Maybe we just always assumed that Linnaeus was Roman like Augustus, Marcus Aurelius and the rest of those guys with latinized names. But yes – in case you haven't picked that up yet – Linnaeus (or Carl von Linné as he's known here), the father of modern taxonomy, is actually a Swede.

When you come to think of it though, it actually seems quite fitting that Linnaeus, whose list of important works include a survey of flora in Northern Sweden, would have been a Swede. Swedes are, after all, typically the nature-loving, almost tree-hugger type of people who always stop to look at flowers (and occasionally, as I have seen many times, take photos of them in the park, forest, or even in the city where the flowers grow from pots). The first flowers of spring are always a big deal (and a recurring topic for spring conversation, at least from my experience), and it's very likely that someone you know here actually owns a flora-and-fauna manual (or several!). I wonder if the Linnaeus tradition had influenced the Swedish mindset, or if Linnaeus reflected the Swedish mindset that was already there? At any case, when Linnaeus is named here in Sweden he will most likely be remembered for his investigation of flowers than for his more general taxonomic categorizations. In the official Linné 2007 Jubilee site, he is even lovingly refered to as – insert sound effect here – Mr. Flower Power. They surely must have put a lot of thought on that tagline, despite sounding to me like the name of a new Power Rangers or Captain Planet team member. Or maybe that's the point? (Got the picture above from them BTW)

For the rest who may not associate Linnaeus with flowers at all though, he is surely known for the hours of memorization he caused us in biology class. Thanks to him, my sister was also able to explain "scallops" to her allergy doctor as "the adductor muscle of a bivalve mollusk", and Gary Larsson the cartoonist (who often depicts bugs in conversation) have had the honor of having a louse taxonomically named after him. There are apparently dark spots in Linnaeus' taxonomy too, however. A lesser known fact (shaming the all-embracing Swedes for sure) was his attempt to categorize human beings into races, pre-endowed with characteristics that range from negligent (Africans, he said) to avaricious (us Asians, tsk tsk) to inventive (Europeans like Linnaeus). That's biological determinism version 1700's for you, but I guess there weren't too many academicians during that time to make a living from disagreeing.


Anonymous lizzy said...

*Ahem* Bivalve mollusk.
In any case, that doctor certainly was no seafood lover!

7:58 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Ugh, there must be something wrong with my brain lately... but thanks, Liz!

9:24 PM

Anonymous KG said...

True story, I thought Linnaeus was Italian or Roman because of his name... why do they latinize their names that anyways? I guess I could look it up myself. Joy, you can be Jouyous Guerrerous... hehe, that actually sounds good!

8:50 PM


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