How Linnaean learning spread far and wide
7 June 2021
An inspiring middle-school teacher sparked Linda Andersson Burnett’s interest in history. Now a researcher in the history of science and ideas at Uppsala University, she is currently studying Carl Linnaeus and his influence, which extends far beyond Sweden’s borders.
Linda Andersson Burnett spends a lot of time reading old books and letters, and searching in archives – not a far cry for a historian. During her research in the UK, while she was writing her master’s dissertation and doctoral thesis about British natural history and the Scottish Highlands, Linnaeus caught her attention.
Early on in her research, she discovered Linnaeus’ great influence on natural history in both Scotland and England. He corresponded with British naturalists who travelled in northern Scotland, and students were taught about him at British universities.
British society paved the way in spreading Linnaeus’ findings in natural history between 1750 and 1850. Andersson Burnett has also researched how people used Linnaeus’ classification of people in the British Empire.
“As a historian of ideas and science, I’m interested in how knowledge can transcend both institutional and geographical boundaries,” she says.
She has just begun a new research project, Early Citizen Science: How the public used Linnaean instructions to collect the World c. 1750–1850, as a Wallenberg Academy Fellow. In it, she is examining how science developed through collaborations between universities, museums and interested laymen during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The emphasis is on the Anglo-Swedish tradition of scientific instructions on how to collect specimens from nature. These evolved from guidelines written by Linnaeus for his Swedish students, which also had a major influence on how instructions were written in Great Britain.
Contrary to previous research, which focused above all on how Linnaeus’ natural history was taken up by British scientific elites, this project will analyse how a large number of British informants used the Linnaean guidelines. These informants could be merchants, landowners, military personnel, colonial officials and missionaries working in the expanding British Empire.
“The project is in a construction phase where I’m currently surveying which instructions were written and which agents collaborated with the university museums,” Andersson Burnett says.
So far, she has discovered in her research how much material there is about people from various walks of life who worked at the university museums. These were not just professors.
“Numerous assistants looked after the collections and wrote thank-you letters to collectors. There was also a caretaker who was tasked with taking a puma on walks around the University of Edinburgh,” she says.
Another purpose of the new project is to add new knowledge of modern citizen science, in which members of the public help researchers to investigate various issues. It has recently become very popular, but citizen science is nothing new: it has been used since the 19th century.
“There are very few studies of early citizen science, and I hope to able to contribute to them. It’s very much a matter of learning from history,” Anderson Burnett says.
Among the influences on Linda Andersson Burnett, as both a person and a researcher, is Scotland. She went there directly after upper secondary school to take a course in academic English.
“The plan was to be there for six months, but I stayed for 14 years,” she says.
She read history at the University of Edinburgh, and her first postdoctoral position was a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) in the same city. She also met her husband in Scotland.
“My entire education was permeated by Edinburgh’s historic setting, and having access to all the archives there has been a tremendous boon.”
Andersson Burnett is also part of the Young Academy of Sweden, where she is particularly involved in internationalisation issues.
“There are fairly few Swedish students who go abroad and I think it’s vital to learn about other cultures. I also want to work for the kind of internationalisation that makes it easier for young researchers from outside Sweden to establish long-term careers here,” she says.
The next five years will be dedicated to Andersson Burnett’s current research project. She has not decided what to do after that, but there is a good chance of her returning to Linnaeus.
“One area I’m interested in is how people taught Linnaean natural history in North America. That’s something I’ve been pondering.”
Facts: Linda Andersson Burnett
Titles: Researcher in the history of science and ideas at Uppsala University; Wallenberg Academy Fellow (in a career programme for young researchers); and member of the Young Academy of Sweden.
Spare-time activity: Since we’ve just moved here, I like exploring Uppsala and the superb nature reserves in Uppland at the weekends.
Last book read: Levels of Life by Julian Barnes. There are also children’s books in Swedish and English piled up on my bedside table.
Driving force as a researcher: Curiosity. Shining a spotlight on historical figures who have previously been marginalised, such as colonised people, is also important to me.
Person who inspires you: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the American politician and Democrat.
Eighteenth-century citizen science inspired by Linnaeus (article from Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation)
How Linnaean learning spread far and wide
07 juni 2021
An inspiring middle-school teacher sparked Linda Andersson Burnett’s interest in history. Now a researcher in the history of science and ideas at Uppsala University, she is currently studying Carl Linnaeus and his influence, which extends far beyo...
Elly Griffiths is giving this year’s Adam Helms Lecture
03 juni 2021
Each year, Uppsala University and the Swedish Publishers’ Association arrange a lecture in memory of the publisher Adam Helms. This year’s lecture will be given by the internationally renown British crime novelist Elly Griffiths on 16 September 20...
New thesis: Finery for fashionable ladies
11 maj 2021
When the first descriptions of knitting and crochet were published in Swedish, in the mid-19th century, such handiwork was described as the finest of all feminine handicrafts, for the benefit and pleasure alike of the trend-conscious, diligent mid...
Linnaeus’ complicated relationship with racism
07 maj 2021
Since June 2020, Carl Linnaeus has been a subject of debate in Sweden and around the world. What sparked it off were the actions of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Statues of slave owners have been lambasted or destroyed. In Sweden, the dis...
Conspiracy theories characterise views in and about Europe
03 maj 2021
Conspiratorial narratives of internal disintegration and external threats affect views in the European Union and Europe to an increasing extent. Our trust in society is put to the test in crises such as COVID-19 when various groups are singled out...
Nordic conspiracy theories through the ages
01 mars 2021
Conspiracy theories are becoming more common in the world, and the Nordic countries are no exception. Are some conspiracy theories unique to the Nordic countries? What typical narratives are disseminated? And when did this really start? A new book...
The plague year of 1710 was also a difficult year
24 februari 2021
As historians, it is our job to take a step back and give perspective to our current situation. For anyone looking back, it isn’t hard to find other difficult years. In Sweden’s past, 1710 was undoubtedly one such year, writes Jonas Lindström, res...
Sustainable development the focus of new graduate school at Campus Gotland
21 januari 2021
On 18 January, Uppsala University’s new multidisciplinary graduate school opened at Campus Gotland. Its focus is on sustainable development. This involves research on key societal challenges within changing energy systems, sustainable consumption,...
Archives crucial for Freemasons’ identity
22 december 2020
The Order of Freemasons’ meticulous archives are fundamental to their identity. The unique structure of the masonic archives reinforces the secrecy and mystique of the self-image that has been fashioned by the Order — and characterises it in the e...
Grants for research on the impact of AI on people and society
15 december 2020
In a major 10-year national research programme, two Wallenberg Foundations are supporting research on the impact of the ongoing technology shift, involving digitalisation and artificial intelligence, on our society and our behaviour. Two of the gr...
Linnaeus and Rudbeck medallists chosen
10 december 2020
This year the Rudbeck Medal is awarded to Professors Olle Eriksson, Inger Sundström Poromaa and Maria Ågren, while the Linnaeus Medal is awarded to Professor Kerstin Lindblad Toh and Chairman Dai-Won Yoon at Hallym University in South Korea.
Turkic cultural heritage in Uppsala
07 december 2020
Uppsala University has a rich collection of manuscripts, printed material, art objects and maps related to the Ottoman Empire and other Turkic cultures. How did they come to Uppsala? This story is told in a new book “Turcologica Upsaliensia. An Il...
Fallen in battle, these Swedish Vikings are part of a larger genetic puzzle
17 september 2020
In a recently published article in the journal Nature, 90 researchers from various countries have collaborated to develop new knowledge about the Viking-era population. Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University, has contrib...
The VR game that takes you to medieval Visby
14 augusti 2020
Using a VR helmet, you can try your hand at archery in 14th century Visby. This new VR game has been developed by the game company Disir, which was founded by a game developer and three archaeologists, of which two research at Uppsala University.
“The American dilemma is far from resolved”
15 juni 2020
The police violence in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd has once again thrust relations between black and white Americans onto the agenda, a dilemma that will most likely play a central role in this autumn’s presidential elec...
Social graces and etiquette vital for Carl Linnaeus
04 juni 2020
What would have become of Carl Linnaeus if he had remained single? Would science have missed out on one of its major lodestars without his well-functioning household? And was his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, really the ne’er-do-well he was repu...
Medieval manuscript fragments acquired
26 maj 2020
A group of fragments of medieval manuscripts has been acquired by Uppsala University Library. Among these there is a fragment related to Saint Bridget of Sweden. This particular fragment may have been written at or owned by the Vadstena Abbey.
She studies AI as existential media
30 april 2020
How are we influenced when smart digital assistants, like Siri and Alexa, become part of our homes? And what happens when we begin to track deviating individuals through biometrics? “More research is needed on what it means to be human in a digita...
New study reveals unknown side of Astrid Lindgren’s creative process
21 februari 2020
Why did Jonathan Lionheart’s pitch-black hair suddenly turn golden? And how did Master Detective Kalle Blomqvist get his proper name? In the “Astrid Lindgren Code”, literature researcher Malin Nauwerck lifts the lid on some of the literary world’s...
History professor given prestigious assignment
22 januari 2020
Maria Ågren, professor of history, has been awarded a distinguished professor grant of SEK 50 million over 10 years by the Swedish Research Council. The council awarded grants totalling some SEK 380 million to eight applicants.