The Linnean Society en-GB Wed, 31 Oct 2018 09:06:00 +0000 Wed, 31 Oct 2018 09:44:29 +0000 31st October 2018: Hidden Treasures: In Search of John Tyley Wed, 31 Oct 2018 09:06:00 +0000

Earlier in the month we did a blog post about John Edmonstone, the former slave who taught Charles Darwin taxidermy. If it wasn’t for Darwin talking about this man in his autobiography and his letters to his sister, would his monumental influence have gone unrecognised? It makes you wonder about the many contributions black people have made to the science of natural history that are as of yet unknown. In many cases we find out about these contributions through little things like passing comments in letters, or, as in the case of this blog post, a simple signature on a botanical painting.

St Vincent Laurus Persea
Avocado (Laurus persea)
Calycarpa scandens
Calycarpa scandens

Within our collections we hold some beautiful watercolour illustrations from Alexander Anderson’s Hortus Sti. Vincentii Tabulae. In need of repair, these items can be adopted through our AdoptLinn campaign, which will enable us to fund the conservation process. Alexander Anderson (1748–1811) was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who was appointed superintendent of the Botanic Garden on the Caribbean island of St Vincent from 1785 until his death. The Hortus Sti. Vincentii Tabulae shows 148 beautiful watercolour depictions of plants from the Botanic Garden (one of the oldest in the Western hemisphere), as well as a plan of the garden itself.

John Tyley Signature

Around ten of the stunning drawings are signed by a ‘John Tyley’. Who is John Tyley, what is his background and what became of his life? We do know that John Tyley was an associate/protégé of Alexander Anderson1 and in Alexander Anderson’s Geography and History of St. Vincent, West Indies (1983) it states that Alexander Anderson

"praised the work of his artist, a young mulatto from Antigua, and sought to find a position with opportunity for him in England".2

Is this young mulatto from Antigua the very same John Tyley? According to Alexander Anderson’s nephew, also called Alexander, it is. In his diary he writes about visiting his uncle in St Vincent and the drawings of a young mulatto, [John] Tyley, who was living with his uncle, while also working as his draftsman.3

St Vincent Botanic Garden
Drawing of St Vincent Botanic Garden

Currently this is all we know about John Tyley. But is this where our story ends? I would like to keep searching to find out more about his life. I have contacted the St Vincent Botanical Garden to see if they have any more information about this gifted botanical draughtsman, but I was also wondering if you could help. Do you know anything more about John Tyley? Or are you interested in getting involved in the research process?

There are many unsung heroes and hidden treasures within the study of natural history that need to be placed in the spotlight—let’s start with John Tyley.

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager


1) The St. Vincent Botanic Garden – The Early Years, 1997/1998, Richard A. Howard, Arnoldia, Vol 57, pg. 12-21

2) Alexander Anderson’s Geography and History of St. Vincent, West Indies; edited and transcribed by Richard a. & Elizabeth S. Howard

3) Alexander Anderson’s Life and Engravings before 1800^ with a Checklist of Publications Drawn from His Diary; Jane R. Pomeroy

24th October 2018: Looking to the Future Wed, 24 Oct 2018 07:21:00 +0000

For Black History Month, we have looked at past contributions of black people to natural history, through John Edmonstone and George Washington Carver. Through Maha Kordofani, we have listened to black scientists on what it is like to be in the field today. This week we look to the future and speak to PhD student, Oluwaseun Samuel Somoye, from Cardiff University about his PhD and his advice for future PhD students.

Olu Somoye

Your PhD research title is “The Role of Endemic infection in Disease Emergence”, can you tell us what it is about?

My PhD, based in the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, explores the role of multiple infections in disease emergence. My research focusses on how direct or indirect interactions between parasites results in increased or reduced transmission of infectious diseases.

What does a typical day look like for you?

No day is ever the same, however, a typical day ranges from preparation, and execution of experiments in the laboratory, journal search, data analysis, writing reports or communicating research at group meetings. During term time, I supervise thesis students in the laboratory. A great way to perfect multi-tasking and project management skills.

What do you love most about research?

I enjoy learning from previous research studies. For example creating new hypotheses that can be tested systematically to improve on past studies and/or adapting experimental designs that help alleviate the spread of diseases. Research is in a constant state of flux, where a hypothesis is proposed, tested, accepted or rejected by scientific data.

Can you tell us about your career journey up until now?

I started my journey at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria in 2005, where I developed a keen interest in Parasitology after undertaking the 2nd-year module in this field. I then went on to complete a Master’s degree in Parasitology and Bioinformatics at the University of Lagos, Nigeria in 2012, before starting my Cardiff based PhD in 2015. I count myself lucky to have secured funding (including the Morgan E. Williams Helminthology Scholarship) for my PhD study.

You told us about your interest in parasitology developing during your undergraduates, but what made you decide to undertake research?

After completing my Masters in 2012, I worked with the Lagos state health service commission as a laboratory scientist. Here, I observed co-infection (i.e. having multiple parasites, especially problematic for people living in developing countries) was the norm in the majority of samples sent to our laboratory for diagnosis. This spurred my research interest further into how the presence of one pathogen can impact the disease progression or outcome of a secondary pathogen.

What do you see yourself doing after your PhD?

I intend to go back into public health, where I can put my infection biology expertise into addressing broad issues that can potentially compromise individual and population health including the control of infectious diseases.

If you had to pick one, who would be your favourite scientist?

That’s a hard one, there are quite a few but I would say, African- American, Vanessa Ezenwa, who is an evolutionary ecologist interested in the links between biodiversity loss and infectious diseases and the processes that drive the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?

The journey to a PhD can be likened to a roller coaster, surround yourself with as much support as you can get. Stay determined, critical, humble, patient and never be afraid to fail, it’s all a learning process.

Interviewed by Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

15th October 2018: The Father of the Peanut Industry Mon, 15 Oct 2018 08:58:00 +0000

This week during Black History Month we take a look at an American hero, a former slave who, through his extensive botanical knowledge, revolutionised the farming industry in America.

From traumatic upbringings…

George Washington Carver was an American chemist and inventor. He is most famously known for actively promoting alternating crop techniques to prevent soil depletion. George was born into slavery in Diamond Grove, Missouri. The exact date is unknown, but has been estimated as being c. 1864. At a few months old George, his sister and mother were kidnapped. Moses Carver, George’s slave owner, paid his neighbour to find them but only George was found. George’s older brother James was then the only biological family he had, as his father had died in an accident before George was born.

George Washington Carver

After the abolition of slavery, Moses and his wife Susan raised George and James as their own, teaching them both to read and write. As none of the schools in the area allowed blacks to attend, George Carver left home, at age 11, to attend school in Neosho. He eventually moved to Kansas to continue his schooling and earned his diploma from Minneapolis High School.

Moving on to higher education was difficult; George applied to several colleges and was only accepted by Highland University, who retracted their offer once they knew he was black. During this time he homesteaded a claim, where he conducted biological experiments and compiled his geological collection.

George was interested in both arts and science. While studying art and music at Simpson College (a Methodist school that allowed blacks to attend), his talent for drawing plants and his interest in botany prompted his teacher, Etta Bud, to suggest that he enrol in a botany program at Iowa State Agricultural College—now Iowa State University. George Carver was the first black student to attend this college in 1891, in which he excelled at his studies. After finishing his bachelor’s degree he was persuaded by his professors to stay and attain his master’s.

…to saving the lives of the poor and having friends in high places…

After graduating in 1896, George was approached by Booker T. Washington to run the agricultural department at Tuskegee institute (now Tuskegee University). The Institution was set up by Booker T. Washington to focus on training African Americans in agricultural pursuits.

Tuskegee Institute
George Washington Carver with fellow Tuskegee Institute faculty (c. 1902). Photograph taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Under George’s leadership the agricultural department achieved national acclaim. George developed techniques in crop rotation by planting legumes (peanuts and soya beans, etc.) and sweet potatoes after the cotton season to replenish the soils with vital nutrients (e.g. nitrogen). He brought these techniques to farmers in a mobile classroom known as the ‘Jessup Wagon’. This helped to improve the economy in the South and, by extension, the lives of poor farmers from backgrounds similar to his own.

George Carver spent the rest of his life teaching at Tuskegee Institute. During this time he gained international political and professional fame; admired by President Theodore P. Roosevelt, trusted by Mahatma Ghandi and awarded by the British Royal Society of Arts—he was the first American ever to be made a member.

…and becoming the Father of the Peanut Industry

From oppressive and crippling surroundings, George Washington Carver lifted his searching, creative mind to the ordinary peanut, and found therein extraordinary possibilities for goods and products unthinkable by minds of the past, and left for succeeding generations an inspiring example of how an individual could rise above the paralyzing conditions of circumstance.

Martin Luther King Jr about George Washington Carver

Famous for his extensive knowledge on the uses of the peanut, George Carver was invited to speak at the 1920 convention of the United Peanut Association of America on ‘The possibilities of the Peanut’. His talk covered about 145 different products; George developed a host of new food products, medicines as well as cosmetics such as hand lotions, face creams, and powder. Altogether, he discovered more than 300 food, industrial, and commercial products from this humble legume. However, contrary to popular belief, George Carver did not invent peanut butter.

In 1921 he appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee as an expert witness on behalf of the peanut industry, which was seeking tariff protection. George's testimony did not begin well, but he eventually captivated committee members in such a way that by the end he received a standing ovation. More importantly, he convinced the committee that peanuts should be protected, helping to secure them a high protective tariff.

My life has been of some service to my fellow man

Well, someday I will have to leave this world. And when that day comes, I want to feel that my life has been of some service to my fellow man.

George Washington Carver

With all this fame and notoriety George Carver still lived a very frugal life. He used his life savings ($60,000) to fund the George Washington Carver Museum and cultural centre in Austin, Texas, and the George Washington Carver Foundation which was set up to continue agricultural research at the Tuskegee Institute.

George Washington Carver died from a fall in his home on the 5th January 1943, at around 79 years of age. Franklin D. Roosevelt, after Carver’s death, signed legislation to receive his own monument, a first for an African American and a non-president. He was also posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Looking at all of his accolades, I think it is safe to say that George Washington Carver’s life was seen as a true service to his fellow man.

George Carver as a boy national monument
The Boy Carver statue along the one-mile, self-guiding trail loop at the George Washington Carver National Monument

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

9th October 2018: Celebrating our Fellows: Maha Kordofani FLS Tue, 09 Oct 2018 07:26:00 +0000

This week for Black History Month we are celebrating one of our Fellows of colour, Professor Maha Ahmed Kordofani. Earlier in the month we had a chat with Maha about all things Natural History, why she loves the subject, how she got into it and her advice to younger natural historians.

Maha Kordafani

So Maha, what is your current job title and what do you do in this role?

I am a Professor of Botany (2012 – present), Staff Member and Curator of the Botany Herbarium. I work in the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, University of Khartoum in Sudan. My research focuses on the Flora of Sudan, within that role I collect and identify plants. My role as a Professor involves teaching plant taxonomy and supervising postgraduate students.

What do you love most about your job?

I love identifying and classifying plants, especially medicinal plants. I cherish the knowledge that I have gained whilst studying such plants. The diversity of species in a country as big as Sudan provides an incredible medium for advancing my work. There are also common folk medical practices incorporating plants that remain ever so robust and popular despite the modernisation and westernisation of medicine. I have found that many of the plants I study are widely applicable to today’s medical and therapeutic work. They relate to many medical and pharmacological practices with an emphasis on the fields of alternative and holistic medicine. Africa has a mighty wealth of plants that have the ability to prevent and cure many medical conditions which I find extremely fascinating and hence never tire from my work.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?

I started from humble beginnings in the City of Wad-Medani. It was the agricultural capital of Sudan. It was a struggle for me as I was one of the few women in my field. I am grateful to be where I am today. Not only have I become a Professor of Botany, I am now in a leading position which allows me to help and support students throughout Africa, the UK and the rest of the world.

I completed my Bachelors degree at the University of Khartoum within the Faculty of Science. I then went on to complete a Masters in Experimental Taxonomy at the University of Khartoum, and from there a PhD in Plant Taxonomy at Birkbeck College, London.

I am proud of my journey and it gives me the utmost satisfaction to pass the knowledge on. Women of African origin are still low in numbers in our profession, their wages remain relatively low and I continuously strive to empower them.

Maha's books

What made you want to get into your profession?

I have always had a love for plants. This interest in plants seemed to relentlessly grow throughout my childhood, with every year that passed, making my interest deeper and more pronounced. My father was an Agricultural Researcher (Agronomist). He loved his work. I watched him as I was growing up and was inspired by his resilience and love for Botany. As a woman at the time, I was not expected to do much in terms of academic development. However I found plants fascinating and wanted to learn more about them. My father encouraged me to pursue this career and provided the necessary environment for me to flourish and succeed. He understood the challenges a young African woman would face and prepared me very well for my career in Botany. With determination, resilience and strength I managed to fulfil my dream of becoming a Botanist.

Who is your favourite natural historian?

I would have to say Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus is famous for his work in Taxonomy, the science of identifying, naming and classifying organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, etc.). His history inspires me greatly as I am one of 7 siblings and my father worked with plants as an Agriculturist. Carl Linnaeus was a hard working man with a very interesting life.


What does it mean to you to be a fellow of the Linnean Society?

Being a fellow of the Linnean Society of London is truly special. It is an absolute honour to be a member of such a wonderful scientific community. It is a place where great minds meet and great ideas are born. It is very empowering for me as a woman of African origin to be a member of the Linnean Society. It makes me feel that my efforts have not gone to waste and that I belong to a beautiful group of people who are interested in the same things I am interested in. People who work with plants to deliver the same message I do. Naturally, as Carl Linnaeus is a favourite of mine, it adds a superior note to the order of my pride in being a member of the Linnean Society of London. I am immensely grateful.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting their career in natural history?

Patience is a virtue. Anything worth achieving is going to be hard and without pain we do not grow. Be determined but not overzealous. Be strong but not rigid. Be focused but not tunnel visioned. Be self critical but do not be self doubting. Be analytical but do not be prejudiced. Be free in your pursuit of knowledge and give knowledge freely. Your path is not as much about titles and achievements as it is about the betterment of yourself and of humanity, therefore, be kind to yourself and to others.

Interviewed by Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

2nd October 2018: The Man who taught Charles Darwin Taxidermy Tue, 02 Oct 2018 07:09:00 +0000

By the way, a negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton, and gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently: he gave me lessons for payment, and I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man.

Charles Darwin

This October, for Black History Month, we are exploring the contributions to natural history that have been made by people of African/ Caribbean origin. A famous example involves one of the greatest natural historians of our time, Charles Darwin.

In the above quote, Darwin writes of his taxidermy lessons under the tutelage of a freed slave. According to R.B. Freeman in ‘Darwin’s negro bird-stuffer’ from the Royal Society Journal of the History of Science (1978) this gentleman was John Edmonstone, originally a slave of Charles Edmonstone from Warrows Place, Mibiri Creek in British Guyana.

John Edmonstone was taught the art of taxidermy by Charles Waterton, a 19th century naturalist. Waterton speaks of Edmonstone in his book Wanderings of South America (1825), albeit with less affection than Darwin:

Demerara River
Mbiri Creek, Demerara River. Mr Edmonstone's Wood Cutting Establishment. Thomas Staunton St Clairs, A residence in West Indes and Americas (London, 1834) Vol 2

"It was upon this hill in former days that I first tried to teach John, the black slave of my friend Mr. Edmonstone, the proper way to do birds. But John had poor abilities, and it required much time and patience to drive any thing into him. Some years after this his master took him to Scotland, where, becoming free, John left him, and got employed in the Glasgow, and then the Edinburgh Museum. ”

Edmonstone moved to Edinburgh in 1823, after six years in Glasgow, finding employment teaching the university students how to preserve animals. He lived at 37 Lothian Street until 1825 (close to both the University and where Darwin and his brother Erasmus lodged at the time), and was later recorded as living at 6 South St David’s Street (between 1832 and 1833).

Whilst little is known about him, we do know Edmonstone was teaching and influencing one of the greatest minds of the 19th century. From a letter to his sister, Susan Elizabeth, we learn that Darwin first met Edmonstone in 1826, at the impressionable age of 17.

“I am going to learn to stuff birds, from a blackamoor I believe an old servant of Dr. Duncan: it has the recommendation of cheapness, if it has nothing else, as he only charges one guinea, for an hour every day for two months.”

The Voyage of HMS Beagle 1890
The Voyage of HMS Beagle 1890
Darwin's Galapagos Finches
Darwin's Galapagos Finches

In total, Darwin spent 40 hours training with Edmonstone, not just learning this necessary skill but also hearing of the flora and fauna in distant South America. Only five years later in 1831, Darwin undertook his historic voyage on board the HMS Beagle, on which he first began to form his theory on natural selection. Darwin would have taken with him his newly acquired taxidermy skills as well as his enlightening conversations with Edmonstone. The Galápagos finches, used to support his theory on the transmutation of species, were preserved using the techniques that Edmonstone had taught him.

If not for an aside in Darwin’s autobiography, would we have ever known about the monumental contribution of John Edmonstone, a former slave from Guyana? It makes you wonder how many more significant yet undiscovered contributions people of colour have made to the study of natural history.

John Edmonstone
John Edmonstone and a Young Charles Darwin © State Darwin Museum

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

19th September 2018: Reverend William Kirby, the Father of Modern Entomology Wed, 19 Sep 2018 13:44:00 +0000 William Kirby

On this day in 1759 Reverend William Kirby FRS FLS, an early member of the Linnean Society and leading entomologist, was born in the English county of Suffolk. Kirby studied in Ipswich and then went on to Caius College, Cambridge. He completed his B.A. degree in 1781 and in 1782 he started his studies to become a Reverend at Barham and Coddenham, near Ipswich. During his time at Barham he directed his attention to botany. As stated by his friend and fellow entomologist Mr William Spence (published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society)

"His first taste for natural history was excited by his mother having been accustomed to lend him, when a child, occasionally as a treat, some of the foreign shells in her cabinet to look at and admire."

Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata © Olei

He then turned his attention to entomology after coming across a yellow 22-spotted ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata) on his windowsill. According to Spence Kirby's whole ‘entomological career probably depended on his having been struck by this insect’.

Certificate of Recommendation
Reverend William Kirby's certificate of recommendation

In 1791 Kirby became an Associate Member of the Linnean Society, and by 1796 was an elected Fellow. During his life he published many books on insects including his first major work, Monographia Apum Angliae (Monograph on the Bees of England) in 1802 and the Introduction to Entomology, which was the first popular entomological work in English (1815–26).

Interestingly, in 1816 Kirby was involved in some controversy where he became an unexpected rival to our founding president and botanist Sir James Edward Smith (1759–1828) by running against Smith for the Botanical Professorship at Cambridge. In a letter from Smith to the famed entomologist Alexander Macleay (1767–1848). Smith wrote that:

"I do not accuse him of hypocrisy, only thus so far I say the character of a priest in the bad sense is essentially composed of hypocrisy and bigotry"

This rivalry, however, does not detract from the fact that Reverend William Kirby was a widely respected entomologist. During his lifetime he became an honorary life president of the Entomological Society of London (which he helped found), President of the Ipswich Museum and a Fellow of the Royal, Zoological and Geological Societies. In his lifetime he had significantly contributed to the study of natural history through is entomological research and because of that he is remembered as the Father of Modern Entomology.

It will be evident how extensively and successfully [William Kirby] cultivated natural science, and how deeply it is indebted to him.

​​William Spence speaking of Reverend William Kirby in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society​
William Kirby

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

24th August 2018: The Museum of Lost Species debuts at Green Man Fri, 24 Aug 2018 08:00:00 +0000

Linnean Learning recently took a trip out to the Green Man Festival in Wales to exhibit The Museum of Lost Species for the first time. The Learning team have spent weeks developing ‘the Museum’ and were eager to share it with the festival-goers at Green Man.


The main exhibit was a fictional Museum that is home to all extinct species. The Museum currently is experiencing a period of profound growth – scientists predict we are seeing extinction at around 1000 times the natural rate. The Museum was posed as an evil organisation that is quite happy to see more species becoming extinct with the creepy curators inside offering advice on how people could increase biodiversity loss.


Outside the Museum, you may have spotted some campaigners that wanted the Museum to be as small as possible. They were campaigning to Close the Museum. They asked visitors to write down their thoughts on how the Museum made them feel, and what they will do to prevent further biodiversity loss.

Museum made you feel

The team wanted to create an out-of-the-ordinary exhibit that highlights how we, as humans, have the power to cause detrimental effects to our planet and the millions of species that live within it. However the team also wanted to highlight positive ways that we can protect the Earth's vibrant biodiversity. Through our creepy curators and opposing team of campaigners, the exhibit allowed visitors to explore their own role in biodiversity loss and think about what they can do in the future.

close the museum

By the end of the festival, the campaigners and the festival-goers managed to close the Museum, but we are sure the Museum will re-open again soon…

You can head over to our web page ( to find out more about the Museum and learn about how we can all act to stem the flow of biodiversity loss.

Joe Burton, Education and Public Engagement Manager

14th August 2018: Linnean Society Field trip to the Isle of Cumbrae Tue, 14 Aug 2018 16:44:46 +0000 setting moth traps
The team setting up moth traps for the evening

This year, for our field trip, the Linnean Society went to Scotland’s most accessible island, the Isle of Cumbrae. We haven’t done a field trip in a few years and decided to bring them back in a revamped format in conjunction with the Field Studies Council. They weren’t wrong about it being Scotland’s most accessible island. It was a long journey from London, two trains, a ferry and bus ride, but an easy one. Once you got to Largs, which was a straight train from Glasgow, the ferry left every 15 minutes and on the other side the bus arrived the same time as the ferry and dropped you right outside the field centre.

Once we arrived we were put straight to work. The first evening session consisted of setting traps, humane ones of course. We set moth traps, mammal traps and a camera trap to hopefully capture the night time activities of otters. According to Jack, our tutor for the weekend, the mammal traps saw the same creatures coming back. It was a bit like a night’s stay in a luxury hotel for them, as there was
shelter and enough food and water for the night.

Dolphin spotting
Dolphin watching

We ended Friday evening bird and dolphin watching. We saw Gannets in a feeding frenzy, it was truly amazing watching these birds dive from great heights. Gannets can dive from 30 m high, achieving speeds of up to 100 km/hour, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than other airborne birds. They are one of the few birds to dive with their eyes open. We also spotted the lone resident dolphin named either ‘Colin’ or ‘Kylie’ depending on who you ask. They don’t know much about this dolphin, but what is very interesting is that this dolphin is only ever seen alone, even though dolphins are extremely social creatures.

After a bit of dolphin spotting, it was time to call it a night. A few of us were lucky to have sea views from our bedrooms so I know some tried to see if they could spot Kylie again from their rooms.

Saturday morning saw us revisit our traps. Our camera trap wasn’t so successful. We did catch some creatures on camera but not the otters we were expecting. Instead our bait attracted a couple of shore rats. Our other traps, however, were more successful. We caught a range of moths, including two lovely and quite lively large yellow underwings and our mammal traps caught three field mice. After safely returning them we got onto our next task which was plankton sampling. I think we were all surprised by how much we enjoyed this session. It was really fun getting the microscopes out and trying to identify all the plankton we saw. The colours and shapes made it all quite mesmerising.

A few creatures found in our traps and plankton under a microscope

Kames Bay, Millport
The view from Kames Bay. On the left is Wee Cumbrae and in the distance is the Isle of Arran

After lunch we got to spend the afternoon on the rocky shore. We learnt about quadrat sampling and the different types of animals and seaweeds we find along the rocky shore. From the lichens that dominate the splash zone right down to the lower shore where all the sea urchins, crabs, starfish and brittle stars live. After sampling we took a drive around the island and had a few stops to look at the immense views. The circumference of the Island is only 10 miles long and so it as become a bit of a cycling destination for tourists. Saturday ended with a talk on the natural history of Cumbrae and the other islands that make up the Clyde Islands.

Fun Fact: Curling stones are made from a certain type of granite that is only found on Ailsa Craig, an island south of Cumbrae.

Well the day didn’t really end there. After Jack finished his talk and left. We all stayed behind to look at more plankton. I did say we really enjoyed that session.

On the Sunday we had our final activity which was analysing the sandy shore. This time we learnt about transects and dug up a lot of worms, and I mean a lot of worms! We saw way too many lugworms and ragworms. Although, the ragworms were gorgeous to look at, they have these beautiful colours and they undulate, which is pretty captivating to look at. It’s easy to forget they are carnivorous and like to bite, so don’t hold onto them for too long. Up until this point we have been very lucky with the weather. It had been extremely sunny and surprisingly warm, not what we would expect from Scotland. We couldn’t leave Scotland without experiencing some proper Scottish weather and Sunday did not disappoint. As soon as we finished the morning activity the heavens opened and we had to rush back to the centre. Back at the centre we had a bit of time to head around the museum and aquarium before making our journeys back home.

Sandy shore sampling
The team on the last day sampling at Kames Bay

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable weekend, where we learnt a lot about the ecology and the natural history of the island. The Field Studies Council were amazing, friendly hosts and Jack was extremely knowledgeable about Cumbrae and the local ecology. If you are looking for a lovely, easily accessible island with stunning views and a relaxed atmosphere the Isle of Cumbrae should be your next destination.

Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

6th July 2018: My week at the Linnean Society Fri, 06 Jul 2018 14:34:00 +0000 Helios statue
© Tony Hisgett CC BY 4.0

This week it has been my delight to have had the opportunity to complete my work experience at the Linnean Society. Travelling to Burlington House takes me about an hour, as I take the train and then a short walk from Charing Cross. On my walk, I am lucky enough to see some interesting statues, including the dynamic Horses of Helios sculpture at Piccadilly Circus.


On the morning of my first day the Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Rollinson, kindly gave me an introduction to the Society. Through a tour around the building, I learned all about the Society's history. The meeting room was particularly intriguing to me, as it contained the famous Collier painting of Charles Darwin. The following day I was lucky enough to arrange a display that included a letter from Darwin that refers to that same painting. It was also very exciting for me to visit the Cloudsley-Thompson room, as Professor John Cloudsley-Thompson has greatly inspired my interest in zoology.

Being present at the weekly staff meeting on my first day, known as “scrummage”, gave me an idea of what life is like in an office, which was especially useful to me as I have not had previous exposure to working in an office environment beforehand.

The highlight of my first day was when I had the opportunity to join Isabelle, Deputy Collections Manager, in the Collections vault. I was lucky enough to see some beautiful collections, including fish specimens and even some type specimens of butterflies. These are currently being displayed in the Discovery room. The visit to the Collections vault made me aware of the great importance of keeping fragile collections under specific conditions to help preserve them for future generations.

Butterfly Specimen (Papillo achilles) from the Linnaean collections

Towards the end of the day I had the opportunity to observe discussions regarding budget reconciliation for the Discovery Room Project, as well as discussions about adding book cases in the basement. This has helped me to learn about the issues that have to be tackled, and the variety of tasks involved, as a part of being an Executive Secretary.

I started off my second day at the Linnean Society by thinking of and noting down questions and ideas related to the topic areas of the A-level biology course that I am studying at school. I had to think about why I find these questions interesting as these ideas or ones similar may be incorporated into future podcasts aimed at listeners who are of a similar age to me. This was an enjoyable activity as it allowed me to express my creativity through asking myself a range of questions, developing new ideas about what I am learning at school, and forcing me to think beyond what I am simply taught in my day-to-day school lessons.

Emilia Noel
Image taken from one of Emilia Noel's sketchbooks

I spent the rest of the day, as well as the majority of the following day, helping with collections in the library, which was definitely one of my favourite parts of my work experience. This involved choosing pages of books to be used as displays in the Discovery room. I chose a vibrant illustration by botanical artist Emelia Noel. Helping to set up the displays in the discovery room helped me to learn about the challenges involved in making a visually pleasing display that is well- structured and informative, yet clear and easy to read.

During my work experience I also got involved in various activities, such as using excel to create tables that contain financial information. This was extremely useful in developing my skills and confidence in general office tasks that I will need in my future career.

Throughout my week of work experience I have also been lucky enough to talk to different members of staff, who informed me about their jobs at the Linnean Society, which range from conservation to digitalisation. This has given me a great insight into the way the Linnean Society operates, and the different day-to-day tasks and duties involved at the society.

It’s been a truly great experience.

Alicia Green, Work experience student

Alicia in the Discovery Room
1st July 2018: 160th anniversary of the presentation of "On the tendency of Species to form Varieties" Sun, 01 Jul 2018 09:00:00 +0000

Today marks the 160th anniversary of the presentation of papers by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace outlining the theory of evolution by natural selection at a meeting at the Linnean Society in 1858.

Unfortunately, neither of the two were present. Darwin was unwell and still grieving following the death of his son and Wallace was away in the Moluccas in Indonesia.

Portrait of Darwin (1809-1882) commissioned by the Society in 1883 which can be found in the Society’s Meeting Room. The painter, John Collier, was selected by Darwin. Darwin was formally admitted as a Fellow of the Linnean Society on 2 May 1854.
Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). Alfred Russel Wallace was formally admitted a Fellow of the Linnean Society on 15 Feb 1872.

On 18 June 1858 Darwin had received a letter from Wallace containing an essay entitled “On the tendency of species to depart indefinitely from the Original type” which formulated the same hypothesis that Darwin had worked on for the last twenty years but had never published. Darwin sent this to Scottish Geologist Sir Charles Lyell as requested by Wallace and also informed his close friend and botanist/explorer Joseph Dalton Hooker of what had happened. 

Lyell and Hooker were familiar with Darwin’s views by this point and Hooker had read his original manuscript. It was thanks to these two that Darwin was persuaded not to publish Wallace’s essay without publishing his own long-withheld manuscript. Darwin left the matter in the hand of Lyell and Hooker who presented the papers just in time for an extra meeting held at the Society.

The two wrote a joint letter to the Secretary, J. J Bennet, which arrived only the day before the meeting. It contained:

  1. Extracts from the first part of a MS. work on Species by Darwin that also included extracts from the second chapter headed “On the Variation of Organic Being in a State of Nature; on the Natural Means of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and true Species” of which both Hooker and Lyell intended to read at the Society.
  2. Abstract from a letter from Darwin to Prof. Asa Gray, Boston, U .S. dated September 5th 1857 highlighting his unaltered views.
  3. “On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type” by Alfred Russel Wallace.
Linnean Society
“On the tendency of Species to form Varieties” paper by Wallace and Darwin originally published in the Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology. Read on 1st July 1858 at the Society. This is currently on display in the Library of the Linnean Society.

As it was customary to not receive the agenda in advance, these papers that were read by the Secretary J. J Bennet were a complete surprise to everyone attending. In a letter written from Hooker to Charles Darwin’s son, Francis Darwin, 28 years after the meeting, he describes how the room was awestruck and completely silent. There was a lack of discussion about the papers which he put down to the subject being too novel and ominous.

Thomas Bell, the president of the Society at the time, had no inkling that this was the start of a paradigm shift. In his Presidential address in May 1859 reviewing the previous year he said 

The year which has passed… has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionise, so to speak, the department of science on which they bear.

It was only when Darwin published his Origins of Species by means of natural selection, a year later that the significance of this momentous occasion became evident. 

Eleanor Marshall, Intern

15th June 2018: The Linnean Society Loose Letters Collection: The Weird and the Wonderful Fri, 15 Jun 2018 09:08:00 +0000

Since October, I have been cataloguing the loose letters collection, which mostly ranges in date from 1800 to 1990. The majority deal with membership concerns such as membership applications, paying fees, attending meetings, and receiving copies of publications. 

Members and non-members often sent in descriptions or photographs of plants and animals asking for help in identification. Requests were usually straightforward, but sometimes they could be a little more unusual. A. Thomson, in 1901, wrote rather desperately from the Zoological Society asking if the Linnean Society could give the name and address of any gentleman who might be able to supply trained hawks for the Sultan of Morocco. Presumably the Linnean Society was of some help, as someone has written down an address on the letter. In 1993, Luis Villar Corzo wrote to the Society to advertise his stock of live alpacas (400 females and 40 males). Given the lack of space in the Society, they seem to have declined his offer.

Loch Ness Gold

Edwin Gold became rather excited in 1954 by reports of the Loch Ness monster, believing it to be similar to the legendary Polynesian sea-monster, the Taniwha. He described in great detail his reasons for believing in its existence and was puzzled by ‘the indifference shown by scientists to the affair.’

Unicorn Hardwicke

 Thomas Hardwicke (1821) went even further with his belief in the unicorn. Having proudly described his specimens (including a bear skin, Nepalese wild sheep horns and musk deer), he then referred to his friend [Nathaniel] Wallich, who 

has some hopes also of getting the animal we call an Unicorn – I have little doubt of its existence – and alive or dead it will be a great acquisition to Natural History

Despite several subsequent letters detailing more specimens, the promised unicorn was never mentioned again.

ration letter

The domestic affairs of the Linnean Society occasionally came under scrutiny. In the bleakness of post-war rationing, the Society continued providing tea, with occasional help, as a letter from Monie Watt (1948) shows. She posted a parcel of tea, dried milk, and ‘old fashioned Basin cloths’ as a contribution to the Society. In 1956, M. Muriel Whiting had other thoughts about the tea provided. For reasons of economy she suggested replacing the swiss roll provided (‘very sticky’) with plain fruit cake, and replacing the rich fruit cake with bread and butter (which she believed many Fellows would prefer). 

Occasionally more serious matters occurred. An imposter was seen in the Library in 1844. Luckily, S. Symons appeared to know the identity of the man, John Berrington, described as ‘a person wearing a clerical coat.’ Symons had more information: ‘he was guilty of some very unclerical acts’ and was ‘a most accomplished swindler’ who has spent time in prison. 

Other members gave accounts of their exploits and the stories behind their specimens. 

Markwick letter

William Markwick’s letter in 1795 provides one of the saddest stories of specimen collecting. 

You may remember that in the year 1789 I sent you a specimen of the Scaup Duck anas marila together with the Tippet Grebe [Podiceps cristatus], but your Servants thinking them Delicacies for the Table dressed them for your Dinner, before you could examine them as a Naturalist.

Luckily he sent some more specimens (obtained by sending his servant to ‘shoot what Birds he could’) which hopefully reached his correspondent without incident.

Some letters appear to have very little relevance to the Society. A letter from 1782 from Lewis Rosey was a touching plea to his uncle to reply to his letters. How the letter came to be at the Society is unclear; his uncle was in Lausanne, while Lewis himself was an apprentice to a watch maker near Soho Square. He wrote with a wish that they would spend some time together in the future, and that ‘we must not think of that the time being at to great a distance of and a great many things may happen between this and then.’ 

This fascinating collection demonstrates the variety of the Linnean correspondence over the years and makes rewarding reading. The letters have now been catalogued and will soon be available on the CALM archive catalogue.

Anne Courtney, Volunteer

dear uncle
30th May 2018: Medal winners 2018 Wed, 30 May 2018 09:19:00 +0000 Anniversary meeting medal winners
Bottom Left to Bottom Right: Juliet Williamson, Kamaljit Bawa, Edwige Moyroud, Thais Vasconcelos, Marcella Corcoran; Top Left to Top Right: Daniel Hutson, Sophien Kamoun, Alexander Hetherington FLS, Dan Danahar, Josephine Pemberton, Jeremy Holloway FLS, Niki Simpson FLS, Paul Brakefield PPLS, Sandy Knapp PLS, Andy Chick FLS © The Linnean Society of London

At our Anniversary Meeting on Thursday 24th May 2018, Professor Paul Brakefield—President of the Linnean Society of London— presented our Medals and Prizes to celebrate the achievements of academics across the natural sciences. Below is a list of the medal and award winners.

Kamaljit Bawa received the Linnean Medal (Botany) to a biologist for service to science.

Kamaljit Bawa

Jeremey Holloway FLS received the Linnean Medal (Botany) to a biologist for service to science.

Jeremy Holloway

Sophien Kamoun received the Linnean Medal (Botany) to a biologist for service to science.

Sophien Kamoun

Josephine Pemberton received the Darwin-Wallace Medal to persons who have made major advances in evolutionary biology.

Josephine Pemberton

Edwige Moyroud received the Bicentenary Medal to a biologist under the age of 40 years in recognition of excellent work.

Edwige Moyroud

Andrew Chick FLS received the Trail-Crisp Medal in recognition of an outstanding contribution to biological microscopy that has been published in the UK.

Andrew Chick

Alexander Hetherington FLS received the Irene Manton Prize to a PhD student for the best botany thesis in an academic year.

Alexander Hetherington FLS

Thais Nogales da Costa Vasconcelos was awarded the John C Marsden Medal for the best doctoral thesis in biology.

Thais Vasconcelos

Dan Danahar received the H H Bloomer Award awarded to an amateur naturalist for an important contribution to biological knowledge.

Dan Danahar

Marcella Corcoran received the John Spedan Lewis Medal awarded to an individual who is making a significant and innovative contribution to conservation.

Marcella Corcoran

Niki Simpson received the Jill Smythies Award to a botanical artist for outstanding illustrations.

Niki Simpson

Juliet Williamson received the Jill Smythies Award to a botanical artist for outstanding illustrations.

Juliet Williamson

The Linnean Society seeks to encourage excellence in the natural sciences by awarding a series of medals and prizes to scientists and artists for outstanding work in their fields. Nominations for 2019 are now open and will close on 30th November 2018.

18th May 2018: Lady Pleasance Smith: a typical Victorian lady? Fri, 18 May 2018 16:00:00 +0000

This year, the Linnean Society collaborated with the History department of King's College London, and hosted two Masters students to undertake a 100-hour internship in the Library. The two students, Kristen Wellborn and Taylor Harwood, catalogued different sections of Lady Pleasance Smith's correspondence: while Kristen catalogued Lady Pleasance's general correspondence (over 350 letters from around 100 different correspondents), Taylor focused on the 200-odd letters sent to Lady Pleasance by the Reverend Charles L. Smith (no relation). The two students then collaborated to produce a Linnean Learning podcast, available to listen to on the Linnean Society's website or via SoundCloud. The students were able to present their research and share their experience of working at the Linnean Society at a showcase in Kings College on 11 May. 

Kings College Showcase

We were hugely impressed with Kristen's and Taylor's enthusiasm, scholarship and output. The collaboration between the students and between Kings College and the Linnean Society has been immensely enjoyable and fruitful, and we hope to continue to be involved in more internships next year.

Isabelle Charmantier, Deputy Librarian

Pleasance Podcast
Lady Pleasance Smith

Lady Pleasance Smith had a sharp intellect and a wide-ranging network of family, friends and acquaintances throughout her long life. She was known for her generosity and philanthropic work. Pleasance outlived her husband James Edward Smith, founder of the Linnean Society of London, by nearly five decades, and from the time of his death in 1828 until her death in 1877 at age 103, Pleasance wrote and received a high volume of letters, many of which reveal her avid interest in the arts, humanities, sciences and the natural world.

 As she was not a Fellow of the Society nor a botanist, it would be natural to think that with the passing of her husband her connection to the Linnean Society would have ended, but the high volume of letters that she received indicates the complete opposite. Up to the 1860s, Pleasance remained friends with the Presidents of the Society and donated books, specimens and even some of her husband’s letters to the Society. Being the wife of James Edward Smith afforded Pleasance the opportunity to broaden her horizons intellectually and break the mould of the commonly portrayed narrative of a domestic Victorian lady.

Pleasance correspondence

Writing letters was a vital part of everyday life in Victorian times. It was the best way to quickly pass on important news and conversation. Although the letters penned by her are missing, by reading through this collection consisting of over 550 surviving letters from almost 100 different correspondents, we are able to take a glimpse into the past and piece together a picture of who Lady Pleasance Smith was.

Taylor Harwood and Kristen Wellborn

2nd May 2018: Conserving the Carpological Collection Wed, 02 May 2018 14:43:00 +0000

The Linnean Society has recently been awarded a Preservation of the Industrial and Scientific Material (PRISM) grant by Arts Council England to conserve Sir James Edward Smith's carpological collection. 

The carpological collection is a complement to Smith's herbarium, which has plants collected by Smith and donated to him by important naturalists of the late 18th and early 19th century: Carl Linnaeus the Younger (son of Carl Linnaeus), Robert Brown, John Ellis and Joseph Dalton Hooker, amongst others. It contains many type specimens. The carpological collection contains the parts of a plant that could not easily be pressed on a herbarium sheet: seeds, fruits and branches.

flying fish wing

It contains 637 objects and specimens, all of different natures and various sizes. They range from botanical specimens such as seeds, bark, gum, fruits (such as cones), and leaves (such as tea leaves), as well as other natural objects such as the wing of a flying fish or the cloth from an Egyptian mummy. Many specimens are still enclosed in their original wrappers, with the name of the species written by the collector or the recipient (often James Edward Smith).

Bottle of Citronella

The collection adds an extra layer to the historical understanding of 18th–19th century botany. It reveals what parts of a plant early scientists and explorers considered important to collect. In addition, it points to their interest in plants for economical uses: the collection not only contains seeds and fruits but also objects that pertain more to economic botany, such as a jar of citronella, tea leaves, or cochineal. The collections is also of interest to historians of science and material culture.

Currently, the items are contained in polythene bags of various sizes, themselves boxed in 20 cardboard boxes. The items within the boxes are at risk of physical damage, due to the non-archival quality of the packaging, and the fact that they are loose within the boxes.

Lambert Cashmere
Lambert Cashmere

The PRISM fund is allowing Conservator Janet Ashdown to clean and rehouse the items from the collection. The majority of the seeds and other objects are encased in their original wrappers. These will not be removed them from their wrappers, as they bring historical context to the object. However, the wrappers that are very dirty are being gently cleaned, revealing illegible writing.  

The rehousing consists of relocating each object from its current polythene bag to a small box, encasing seeds in small envelopes within their wrappers, and replacing the objects in bigger boxes, which will replace the current cardboard boxes. The arrangement within the boxes has yet to be decided in collaboration with the honorary curator of botany Dr Mark Spencer, and depending on the results of the appraisal of the collection which is ongoing.

Conserved Boxes

The carpological collection will be rehoused in the room which houses the Smith herbarium. This room, located in the basement of the Society, is temperature controlled and a dedicated area for herbarium specimens. The collection will be stored in the shelves of a custom-made table.

The carpological collection has always remained on the margins of the other Society collections. It is thanks to pressure from Fellows of the Society that it was not sold along with other specimen collections in 1863. Since then, the matter of what to do with it has come up again and again in meetings. With the PRISM grant, it is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Isabelle Charmantier, Deputy Librarian

Arts Council logo
20th April 2018: Linnean Learning Podcast Channel Launch Fri, 20 Apr 2018 14:06:48 +0000

Today we are launching our Linnean Learning podcast channel!

linnean learning video series
The Curious Case of Carl Linnaeus © The Linnean Society of London

Back in November 2017, we identified the need to diversify the multimedia channels that we use and thought that audio podcasts were one way of achieving this aim. The Linnean Learning podcast channel is part of a wider digital educational resource strategy that began in late 2016 with the development of our first educational video series: Life Underground, Clever Collections and The Curious Cases of Carl Linnaeus. The stories, specimens and objects, shared in these 13 videos, are entirely unique to us. With the Linnean Learning podcast channel we aim to attract an additional audience to our already established Linnean Society YouTube channel audience.

Women in Science event speakers
Speakers from the 230th Anniversary of the Linnean Society: A Celebration of our First Female Fellows event © The Linnean Society of London

Our first Linnean Learning podcast, published today, is a summary of a Society event held last month titled “230th Anniversary of the Linnean Society: A Celebration of our First Female Fellows”. With this podcast, listeners will be able to learn about the hot topics currently being debated, such as imposter syndrome and the work/life balance of women in the field of science. The speakers include established scientists such as the Society’s president-elect Dr Sandy Knapp and Professor Athene Donald FRS. 

ross interviewing
Ross Ziegelmeier interviewing Mark Watson FLS © The Linnean Society of London

The forthcoming podcasts that everyone can look forward to hearing include: stories from our archives, such as Lady Pleasance Smith’s rise to fame and authority; teasers such as, Jack Ashby FLS talking about Linnaeus’s specimens in preparation for his lecture, “Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects.”; exciting new ideas in the field of biology, such as the assisted evolution of coral; and mind bending narratives such as, “The Space Potato” or “Swarms: The Origins of Consciousness”.

We created these podcasts through recorded conversations with researchers such as, botanists from The Linnean Society of London and Kew Gardens; professionals such as Zack Rago from the Netflix award winning documentary Chasing Corals and well known “curious minds” such as Vice’s Abdullah Saeed.

So make sure you subscribe to our channel on SoundCloud and check in with us every two weeks to catch another great story!


By Ross Ziegelmeier, Education Project Officer 

20th March 2018: Celebrating the first women Fellows of the Linnean Society of London Tue, 20 Mar 2018 14:39:40 +0000

This blog was originally posted on the OUP blog website.

Diversity in science is in the news today as never before, and it is hard to imagine what it might have been like to be a woman scientist in 1900, knocking at the doors of learned societies requesting that women be granted the full advantages of Fellowship. It might seem trivial to us now, but in the past these societies were the primary arena in which discussions took place, contacts were made and science progressed. In the early 20th century, science itself was only just finding its feet as a professional activity; for much of the previous century it had been the dominion of ‘amateurs’, like Charles Darwin, many of whom were wealthy enough to fund their own activities. So being barred, not just from Fellowship of the learned societies but also from being able to attend meetings, essentially meant exclusion from the day to day workings of science. 

Coinciding with the 230th anniversary of its foundation, the Linnean Society of London is holding a meeting on 21 March to celebrate its first women Fellows—the vote to elect 16 women to the Fellowship in November 1904 was a landmark for participation of women in the science of Natural History. It followed several years of requests from women who wished to become part of the workings of science, and to also illicit changes to the Charters that governed Fellowship. These women were from all branches of natural history—botany, zoology, geology, microbiology (one even studied organisms in rum), and spanned the gamut from Dames, to Professors, to Misses. In 1906 the husband of one of their number commissioned a painting from James Stant depicting the admittance of some of these ‘first women’ that today hangs in pride of place on the staircase in the Society’s premises in Burlington House. 

The Zoological Society of London had admitted women as Fellows since 1826 and the Botanical Society admitted women as Members on the same terms as men in 1837, so the Linnean was behind in a sense, but it is worth bearing in mind that the Royal Society did not routinely admit women until the 1940s—sometimes change is a long time in coming. It was quite radical of the Linnean Society to work to change its Royal Charter to allow admission of women to the Fellowship – changing a Royal Charter is no trivial matter. It is testament to the drive of the Council and Officers, who may not have been united on this matter, that it happened in a mere four years. 

But was there a specific tipping point for this change? In 1900, Mrs. Marian Farquharson, a botanist who had helped to publish a field guide to British ferns, requested that “duly qualified women should be eligible for ordinary Fellowship and, if elected, there should be no restriction forbidding their attendance at meetings”. This insistence on attendance at meetings was important; other societies allowed women to be members, but they were barred from attending meetings (Farquharson had been elected as the first female Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society in 1885 but was not allowed to attend). At first she was rebuffed by the Council of the Linnean Society, but eventually won the day, through sheer persistence (the Society holds a plethora of correspondence from Farquharson) and the vocal support of some members of Council. Ironically, she was the only one of the 16 proposed Fellows who was not admitted on that day in November 1904! 

Five Female Fellows
© The Linnean Society of London

Natural history seems an obvious place for women to have made breakthroughs in acceptance—after all, I was often told in my youth, “botany is for girls”. Botany was traditionally a place where women could make contributions without seemingly threatening the social order, and in the late 18th and 19th centuries there was a thriving culture of women writing botanical books for children that stressed thinking for oneself and questioning authority. 

Carolus Linnaeus (or Carl von Linné)—the ground-breaking 18th century Swedish botanist whose collections of plants, animals and books are now cared for by the Linnean Society of London—had female pupils, even in the highly male-dominated world of the late Enlightenment, though they never went on worldwide journeys like his male ‘Apostles’. Famously Linnaeus’s ‘sexual system’ of organising plants by counting their male and female parts was considered scandalous in the 18th century by some—one botanist even went as far as to suggest that it rendered botany a pursuit that would be inappropriate for women! 

Times have changed, though looking back and celebrating the achievements of female scientists who struggled to attain their place at the table of science in no way diminishes the challenges faced by women in science today. Despite over 100 years of admission of women as Fellows to the Linnean Society, in 2017 only about 22% of Fellows were female—given the relative parity of men and women in undergraduate biology degrees, this indicates there is still room for improvement. But it is important not to consider the participation of women—or of diverse communities in general—in science as a difficult or impossible task, or to consider broadening participation as some sort of necessary evil. Diversity is good for science, it brings new perspectives and ideas; inclusion helps institutions like learned societies to achieve their aims. 

The meeting on the 21st March will not only celebrate the pioneering women who pressed for, and achieved, Fellowship within the Linnean Society, but will also celebrate the efforts and successes of female natural historians in documenting and describing the world around us. The event seeks to explore issues confronting today’s female natural historians, such as imposter syndrome (feeling that one is not really good enough), or the vagaries of fieldwork. These issues affect men as well, but the Society hopes the day will allow all natural historians to come together and discuss how to expand the diversity in our community to become a catalyst for change. 

By Dr Sandra Knapp FLS, President-Elect

12th February 2018: Darwin Day Mon, 12 Feb 2018 12:18:00 +0000 Darwin
© aitoff via Pixabay.

This blog was originally posted on the OUP blog website.

Monday 12th February 2018 is Darwin Day, so-called in commemoration of the birth of the father of evolutionary biology, Charles Darwin, in 1809. The day is used to highlight Charles Darwin’s contribution to evolutionary and plant science. Darwin’s ground-breaking discoveries have since paved the way for the many scientists who have come after him, with many building on his work. As a testament to his lasting legacy, Darwin’s Origin of Species was voted the most influential academic book in history in 2015, remaining as ground-breaking and relevant as ever, over 159 years since it was first published.

To celebrate and commemorate Darwin Day 2018, we have put together a collection of academic research about Darwin’s theories and works – including several papers written and co-authored by the great man himself…

© by nuzree via Pixabay.
  •  Darwin focused much of his energy on studying the behaviour of animals, including humans, exploring the role of behaviour in evolution. However, not all of Darwin’s intellectual energy was spent developing his evolutionary ideas. Did you know he devoted a surprising amount of time studying the biology of barnacles?
  • Not only fascinated by evolution and the biology of barnacles, Darwin was also a keen botanist, and published several papers within in the discipline, investigating the movement and habits of climbing plants, and writing about the complex relationships that the angraecoid orchid group have with specific pollinators within On the Origin of Species. But what impact has Darwin’s legacy had on the history of orchid pollination biology and why is his idea of reciprocal evolution arguably put forward as one of the great contributions to evolutionary biology?
  • Darwin’s fascination with botany and plant life is well documented, and he described the Venus fly trap as ‘one of the most wonderful [plants] in the world’. Research has shown that carnivory has evolved at least six times independently in plants. Despite this, independently-evolved carnivorous plants show similar mechanisms for digesting and assimilating their prey, and their ‘traps’ can range from being a complex mechanism to simply being sticky.
  • Darwin was well known for the vast array of scientific papers, studies, and research he published throughout his life. Given the undiagnosed ill-health he suffered with for most of his life, this makes his body of work all the more remarkable. Over 40 medical conditions have been suggested as the reason for his ill-health, but none have received widespread acceptance. Although one 2015 study suggests that Darwin was suffering from lactose intolerance (a condition that has contributed to our own understanding of natural selection). 

By Katy Roberts, Marketing Executive at Oxford University Press.

2 February 2018: #Ephemera and #ColorOurCollections Fri, 02 Feb 2018 12:55:00 +0000 Mermaid advert

A month-long Twitter campaign has been initiated by the Natural History Museum Library and Archives to raise awareness of the importance of ephemera in natural history collections. Throughout February, we're joining in with to tweet a piece of from our collection.

There will be some intriguing items, like this undated (probably eighteenth-century) advert tweeted on 2 February. It invites Ladies and Gentlemen (for the price of 6d) as well as Tradesmen, Servants and Children (for 3d) to come and see a 'Mermaid, Angel Fish or Sea Woman! from Bengal'. 

There will be newspapers clippings, leaflets, telegrams, postcards, posters, and all sorts of other material that are not normally preserved, but if kept enrich the history of the Linnean Society, and highlight its links with other institutions. So look out for our daily tweets! 

Herbst, Krabben und Krebse

In addition, we are taking part in #ColorOurCollections, organised by the New York Academy of Medicine every year. We selected 5 black and white illustrations for people to colour in – this campaign starts next week and many institutions are participating: The five images selected by the Linnean Society will be available to download from the New York Academy of Medicine website, along with many other collections from other participating institutions.

Isabelle Charmantier, Deputy Collections Manager

26 January 2018: Linnean Learning take on the ASE conference Fri, 26 Jan 2018 10:31:00 +0000 ASE stand

As the nation rubbed their sleepy eyes after a hectic New Years Day, the Linnean Learning team were busy preparing to head to Liverpool to join the annual Association for Science Education Conference (ASE). The ASE Conference — held between Wednesday 3 and Saturday 6 January 2018 — attracts science educators from all over the UK and beyond to share good practice, research and practical ideas for the classroom. Linnean Learning has developed a wealth of resources over the years to support the national curriculum and the education of young people. 


This year, we decided to load the entirety of our resource collection onto USBs to hand out, rather than paper copies, meaning that not only are we doing our bit to save on paper waste, but we’re also providing teachers with an unlimited supply of our resources. Additionally we signed up many schools who wanted printed copies of our great posters and new Biomedia Meltdown booklet — so we’ll be sending those out shortly.

When we weren’t chatting to teachers, the Learning team managed to attend some of the talks and sessions for educators. The Linnean Society sponsored a talk called Biology in the Real World by Graeme Shannon from Bangor University which explored cognitive abilities in the wild. Other great sessions included teaching science to students with special educational needs and disabilities, and discussing a space-science-art project called SunSpaceArt.
While the Conference focused on the educators, it was great to meet up with other resource-providers and explore how we can work together in the future, whether that be through sharing ideas, resources, skills or just a pot of tea.
The ASE Conference has filled us up with happy thoughts as we look forward into 2018 – we hope you’re as excited as we are!

To keep an eye on what we will be up to in 2018 you can follow us via twitter @linneanlearning

Joe Burton, Education and Public Engagement Manager

linnean learning team
12 January 2018. Linnean Learning videos Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:52:00 +0000 linnean learning video still

On the 28th of November the Linnean Learning Video Series Launch event celebrated the beginning of their release which will extend until the 1st of March. Each week the society will release one new video on the Society's YouTube channel. The video series explores the fascinating world of Carl Linnaeus, taxonomy and whole organism biology. The stories, specimens and objects, shared in these 13 videos, are entirely unique to The Linnean Society of London. 

The first in this series, Life Underground, explores the collections in a pseudo-noir style, playing with the idea of biologists as sleuths in the natural world. Each video delves into mysterious stories about Linnaeus’s specimens, housed within the vault below London’s streets. We have rang in the New Year with series two, Clever Collections, which uses objects from the Society’s collections as starting points for understanding the modern scientific method. Finally in February 2018 we will launch series three, The Curious Cases of Carl Linnaeus, a beautiful and fully animated series narrated by Dr George McGavin FLS that looks at Linnaeus and his innovations.

Brown microscope

The huge task of creating these videos would not have been possible without the knowledge and expertise of the collections team. The collections team helped in the identification of potential stories, specimens, images, the locating of books for research and digitization. The collections team has curated an exhibition on some of the collections featured in the videos, which opened on the night of the launch event. Each of the five display cases contains objects which illustrate or are mentioned in one of the videos. Showcasing the 'Robert Brown's Microscope' video, in the series Clever Collections, is Brown's microscope itself, a modification of Cuff’s microscope, and probably made especially for him. With it, Brown observed the jiggling of particles released by pollen grains in water. This jiggling, known as Brownian motion, was analysed mathematically by Einstein and showed to be caused by the impact of individual molecules. The display also includes James Sowerby’s beautiful drawings for the plates illustrating Robert Brown’s paper in the Transactions of the Linnean Society (1831), in which the nucleus of the plant cell was first described.

seahorses and pipefish

Another case illustrates the video 'Sex - the Predawn Dance', in the series Life Underground, with the two specimens of seahorses from Carl Linnaeus's collections. A variety of works from the 17th to the 19th centuries charts the evolution of the classification of seahorses, from being classed as insects by the English naturalist Thomas Moffet (1643), to Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1802) who, like Linnaeus, grouped pipefishes and seahorses under the same genus of Syngnathus, within fishes. 

The videos are free and available to watch on the Linnean Society's YouTube channel. To find out which new video is being released each week you can follow us on Twitter @Linneanlearning

The videos are also all available to watch on a touch screen in the Library. The exhibition will be on display until 16 March 2018. The Library is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5 pm, and accessible to all. It is recommended to contact us before your visit, as the Library is sometimes closed for functions.

Ross Ziegelmeier, Education Project Officer and Isabelle Charmantier, Deputy Collections Manager