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Darwin-L Message Log 1:92 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<1:92>From p_stevens@nocmsmgw.harvard.edu  Sat Sep 11 08:31:16 1993

Date: 11 Sep 1993 09:33:05 U
From: "p stevens" <p_stevens@nocmsmgw.harvard.edu>
Subject: Early trees and genealogy
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

   This is by way of reply to Bob O'Hara's plea for early literature on
trees.

   Some early literature on plant and animal breeding refers to genealogical
trees, and these were drawn as reticulating (Buffon - Histoire Naturelle, vol.
5, 1755 -on breeds of dogs; Duchesne - Histoire naturelle des fraisiers...,
1766 - on strawberry crossing).  A similarity was seen between human
genealogies and those or organisms (Duchesne - I don't know about Buffon), but
the important point was that they were seen as reticulating. In Buffon's case
this is because animals such as dogs copulate, it obviously does take two to
tango, and he was also describing crossings between more or less distinct
forms; in Duchesne's case, because he, too, was crossing varieties and the
like, although many botanists at that time believed that plants normally
selfed.  Breeding generally might be expected to produce reticula, just as
human genealogies would (unless one is selective about just which of your
ancestors you are prepared to acknowledge...).  Depicting selfing genealogies
will result in a tree, but I have never seen these.  And of course it was
Naudin, the plant breeder, who came up with the analogy of a tree (pre
Darwinian, and independant).

   As to trees in Rome, and the like.  I would probably broaden my net, at
least initially, although along the lines already implied by my first
paragraph.  I would look generally at metaphors/analogies for genealogy sensu
latissimo.  Certainly, the idea of "family" when used as a rank in mid 19thC
taxonomy had unacceptable baggage for some (Payer) - family implied ideas of
genealogy, so "order" was a better word (like the Benedicitines).  People like
Duchesne commented on the generative connotations of "genus", just as Cuvier
was aware of the connotations of the word "nature".  Roselyne Rey has a brief
paper, "Aspects du vocabulaire de la classification dans l'encyclopedie",
Docum. Hist. Vocab. Sci. 2: 45-63. 1981, that deals with this almost untouched
problem (well, it may be the appendix, written by ?Dagognet which takes it up).
 I would (for this subset of your larger problem) go to Chambers ed. 1 and look
at how words like "family" were used.  I think that Berlin, in his recent
(1992) "Ethnobiological classification" makes the point that even with "folk",
ideas of genealogy of some sort are never far away when one discusses their
classifications with them.

  Enough.  I should have introduced myself to the group - Peter Stevens,
systematist (plants, tropical, often Malesian - some aspects of systematic
theory) with an interest in the history of the discipline.

Peter Stevens, Harvard University Herbaria.

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