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Scharf, Sara Tovah.
Identification keys and the natural method :the development of text-based information management tools in botany in the long 18th century.
Ph. D. -- University of Toronto, 2007
Ottawa :Library and Archives Canada = Bibliothèque et Archives Canada,[2007]
5 microfiches
Includes bibliographical references.
Botany was undergoing an information overload crisis in the late 17th century. By the beginnings of the 18th century, there were over 18,000 described kinds of plants--far too many for anyone to memorize. Botanists coped by shifting to text-based ways of organizing information about plants called "systems" or "methods." Initially, botanists produced arrangements of plants meant to be simultaneously as congruent with nature as possible and as easy to use for plant identification. Over time, they saw that it would be more efficient to switch to using separate schemes optimized to perform each of these functions. These schemes grew into the natural method, reflective of plants' relationships, and identification keys, which are easier to use. Proponents of the two technologies split into rival camps. A mismatch between theory and practice in the 18th century hampered meaningful discussion about classification until the turn of the 19th century. At that time, when botanical instruction in France surged in the wake of the French Revolution, botany teachers combined the natural method and identification keys with alphabetical indexes to create the format of the modern field guide. This innovation was not accepted in Great Britain for another generation due to cultural and political factors. During the long 18th century, botanists had to overcome many technological and psychological obstacles, including the high cost of illustrating texts, difficulties in obtaining complete specimens, a lack of terminological and other standards, and prejudices against textual features that enhance readers' ability to search for information. Stumbling blocks preventing a balanced historical evaluation of the origin of botanical classifications, such as the reading back of disciplinary boundaries into the past, misunderstandings of terminology, and philosophical prejudices about what is important in history, are also examined. The work ends with a discussion of the multiple invention of a classificatory technology and its implications for the history of science.