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Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Thomas Gray as reader and writer of the natural world
Scott Mandelbrote, Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge,

Abstract: This talk considers Thomas Gray's knowledge of nature and the literature of natural history, drawing on his notebooks and observations and on his use of the publications of sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century naturalists (in particular those for which Gray's own copy or annotations survive). It analyses his relationship to earlier generations of Cambridge botanists and botanical travellers (above all John Ray and Francis Willoughby), his interest in the work of contemporary botanists such as Philip Miller and John and Thomas Martyn, and his interaction with Benjamin Stillingfleet and English interpreters of Linnaeus. Gray's interest in insects and plants is read against a long tradition of the interpretation of the moral significance of the smallest parts of creation and understood in the context of the contemporary transformation of classificatory techniques. Gray's concern with gardens, travel, and the weather is reinterpreted through the lens of contemporary natural history and deployed to counter arguments which suggest that the mid-eighteenth century constituted a barren period of English science.

For more information, please contact Fran Tise by phone at 626-395-3609 or by email at [email protected].