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Botany

(2,535 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
1. Terminological history The term botany derives from the Greek botánē (“herb”). The Graeco-Roman medical writer Galen calls people who forage for medicinal and other plants and sell them in local markets botanikoí (Thrasybulus 14,9). The Latinized term botanicus became increasingly current in the Renaissance, after being adopted from the treatise De materia medica byDioscurides (ca. 70 CE). As an adjective, it came to denote “concerned with the knowledge of plants.” As a noun, it denoted persons scientifically involved with plants. It remained …
Date: 2019-10-14

Botanic garden

(917 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
The first botanic gardens appeared in the mid-16th century. at the northern Italian universities of Padua (founded 1545) and Pisa (founded ca. 1547). Although monastery gardens had had functions of conservation and education since the Carolingian reforms, their chief purpose was to supply the local populace with herbal remedies (Plants, medicinal). The university gardens that began to appear in the Renaissance did not cultivate plants for use, but for presentation. They were solely intended to s…
Date: 2019-10-14

Monstrosities

(750 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
Monstrosities (from the Latin  monstrum, “supernatural phenomenon,” “evil omen,” “monster”) were a notably prominent discussion point in early modern scientific literature. This was partly because there was as yet no clear dividing line between popular and serious scientific writing [5]. Moreover, malformations and abnormal births (e.g. conjoined twins, androgyny, missing or extra limbs) were regarded as divine omens, along with other rare or unusual natural phenomena like earthquakes and comets. This was reflected in abundant prin…
Date: 2020-04-06

Heredity

(1,202 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
1. DefinitionThe concept of heredity is a product of the early modern era, as is biology itself, of which it constitutes a central theme. As is clear in many languages, including English and German, the biological term is a metaphorical transfer from the legal term in inheritance law to the phenomenon of procreation and reproduction of living beings. Before the end of the 18th century, natural philosophers and doctors primarily focused on the development of individual beings when they engaged wit…
Date: 2019-10-14

Plant sexuality

(1,033 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
1. BasicsIn the transition from natural history to biology around 1800, debates over whether plants as well as animals propagate sexually played a prominent role that seems remarkable today. The reasons are many. First, these discussions were closely associated with the emergence of biological questions in the 18th century that focused on manifestations of life in general rather than the multitude of individual flora and fauna. Second, understandings of human sexuality and socialization were chan…
Date: 2020-10-06

Hybrid

(681 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
Hybrids, such as two species combined in a single being, have fueled the imagination since antiquity, and the combinations imagined were often fantastical. Aristotle, for instance, in his  Historia animalium (8,28; “Animal History”), mentions crosses of dogs and tigers and associates these with the particular climatic conditions of Africa, where animals of different kinds gathered at sparse waterholes in tremendous heat. This was the origin, he supposed, of the Greek proverb that all that was new came from Africa. Pliny echoed these views in his Naturalis historia (“Natural …
Date: 2019-10-14

Procreation, theory of

(1,194 words)

Author(s): McLaughlin, Peter | Müller-Wille, Staffan
1. ConceptProcreation (Latin  generatio), a central concept of ancient natural philosophy, refers to causal processes that lead to the genesis of inidividuals – primarily organisms, but also minerals (Mineralogy) and meteorological phenomena (Meteorology). Here early modern science adopted a tripartite classification from Greco-Roman antiquity: it sought different explanations for the genesis of individual properties, generic properties, and specific properties [5].Since procreation is essentially mediated by parental germinal substances – as many an…
Date: 2021-03-15

Natural history

(7,549 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
1. Concept and prior historyWith astronomy, natural history is one of the oldest sciences in the written record. Mesopotamian cuneiform texts listing plant and animal names survive from as far back as the early 2nd millennium BCE. This text type, known as “list science,” probably originated as practice material in the training of scribes, but in all early written cultures (including India and China) it very quickly took on lexical and encyclopedic forms [29. 32–47]. In terms of systematic and argumentative structure, these ancient traditions reached an early zenith i…
Date: 2020-04-06

Expedition

(1,885 words)

Author(s): Lüsebrink, Hans-Jürgen | Müller-Wille, Staffan
1. Beginnings and institutionsThe systematic description and cataloguing of conditions and products of nature and of the populations, languages, and cultures of lands overseas were intrinsic to European expansion from the outset. In the wake of the modern European discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1492) and that of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama (1497/98), the Portuguese and Spanish crowns set up institutions to control trade between the homeland and the new colonies: the  Casa da Índia e Mina in Lisbon (founded 1498) and the  Casa de la Contratación in Sev…
Date: 2019-10-14

Plant

(1,888 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan | Ingensiep, Hans Werner
1. Plants and human beingsEven though crop plants like grain, fruit, and vegetables in agriculture and horticulture contribute directly to the livelihood of human societies, their symbolic and cultural significance is less prominent than that of animals. Since antiquity, the notion of plants as “inverted animals” (with their roots as their “heads” and their leaves as external respiratory organs) embodied the fundamental correspondence of all living beings (including humans), but until well into the …
Date: 2020-10-06

Museum

(3,917 words)

Author(s): Walther, Gerrit | Müller-Wille, Staffan | Kalusok, Michaela
1. ConceptThe prototype and model for all early modern museums was the Museíon, which the Egyptian king Ptolemy I had established around 320 BCE in the same part of the palace at Alexandria that also housed his world-famous library. It was an academy where scholars, who were paid a salary by the government, met for research, discussion, and banqueting. Only in the early modern period did “museum” acquire a more topographical and material meaning. In the 18th century, it was defined as “a place where things are kept that have direct reference to the arts and Muses” [1. 893]. By the 19th cen…
Date: 2020-04-06

Race

(861 words)

Author(s): Müller-Wille, Staffan
The roots of the term “race” can be traced back to the Middle Ages, although the etymology is disputed. The earliest attestations are found in Italian ( razza), French ( race), and Spanish ( raza) texts of the early 15th century, and refer initially to domesticated animals (Animal breeding), and later to agnatic (i.e. recognizing only legitimate male descendants) lineages of the nobility. While some trace the word back to the Latin ratio (reckoning, cause), others suggest the MHG reiƺ (line) or the Arabic râz (origin, leading, head) [1]. The term acquired increasing scientific …
Date: 2021-03-15