The Linnean Society en-GB Fri, 06 Jul 2018 15:34:45 +0100 Fri, 06 Jul 2018 15:34:45 +0100 My week at the Linnean Society Fri, 06 Jul 2018 14:34:45 +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

18th-26th November 2017: Explore Your Archive Wed, 22 Nov 2017 15:18:00 +0000 Explore your Archive logo

Explore Your Archive is an annual campaign coordinated jointly by The National Archives (UK) and the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland), with and on behalf of the archives and records sector, across the UK and Ireland. Every year, for a week, the archives sector highlights the importance of records in all aspects of our society, by organising talks, seminars, guided tours and other events. 


The Linnean Society is participating in the campaign this year, and Library staff organised a guided tour focusing on the archival collections on 21 November. It included a visit of the Linnaean Collections in the Collections Store and a display of some of our wonderful archives, much to the visitors' delight. 

The Linnean Society is also taking part in the Explore Your Archive Twitter campaign, highlighting some of its archives according to the campaign's daily hashtag. So far we've had #archivecatwalk, #ediblearchives and #hairyarchives - with more to come in the next few days. Explore Your Archive is a fun way to increase public awareness of the essential role of archives in our society, to celebrate our network of collections and emphasise the skills and professionalism of the sector. And for the Linnean Society, to show off some of its history and its treasures!

In December, researchers will be able to explore the Linnean Society's archives in much greater detail for the first time, with the launch of the Society's first online archive catalogue. So stay tuned!

31st October 2017: Housekeeping Week Tue, 31 Oct 2017 11:34:00 +0000 Housekeeping week

Over the course of two weeks in October, the Library was closed to readers to enable staff to make more space for incoming books. The process was initiated by moving a section of books from the upper gallery to our East basement storage. In a domino effect, seven major sections of the Library were moved around and re-shelved in more capacious areas, with space left on each shelf for growth. At the same time, the books and the shelves were cleaned of their Piccadilly grime. This could not have been undertaken without the enthusiastic help from Linnean Society staff and volunteers, with new volunteers recruited on the promise of tea and cake. 

These successful two weeks have enabled staff to start shelving books often generously donated by our Fellows, and which had been waiting in boxes or on cradles for lack of space on the shelves. A further closure of the Library is planned for the New Year to continue the process.

At the same time, archivist Liz McGow catalogued around 90 manuscripts, ahead of the launch of the archives catalogue Calm View at the end of the year. 

27th October 2017: Birds' Eggs: A Display on the History of Egg Collecting Fri, 27 Oct 2017 16:13:00 +0000

The Library has a new display, which coincided with Professor Tim Birkhead's talk last Thursday, The Most Perfect Thing: a Birds' Egg. The display looks at the history of egg collecting has been represented through our manuscripts and book collection.

Collecting birds’ eggs began in the 1600s when scholars and naturalists began to acquire natural history objects and create cabinets of curiosities. The Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522–1605) produced voluminous tomes on all aspects of natural history, and owned many curiosities in his museum, which opened posthumously in 1617. His collection contained an ostrich egg, amazing for its sheer size, but also several monstrously large and deformed hen’s eggs. Aldrovandi's chapter on hens includes a substantial section on their reproductive system and the mechanisms that lead to the creation of an egg.    

Remarks on the First Order of Aquatic Birds, by William Markwick
Remarks on the First Order of Aquatic Birds, by William Markwick

Naturalists and scholars have been studying, collecting, drawing, and dissecting eggs for centuries. They have been attempting to answer questions such as: How are eggs made within the female reproductive system? Why do they differ in shape and colour? How is the egg shell formed and when?

Birds’ eggs were collected—sometimes far too assiduously—for their shape, their spectacular colours, or their rarity. Collections were then organised according to colour, size, shape or texture. 

In his manuscript, 'Remarks on the First Order of Aquatic Birds' (1800), William Markwick (1739–1813), a naturalist from Sussex, painted the birds but rarely their eggs. Yet he made an exception for the Woodcock, because, as he noted on the next page: ‘As the eggs of this Bird are rare in our Country, [I] have figured one which was presented to me by a friend.’

Guillemot eggs, such as the ones depicted in Henry Seebohm's A History of British Birds, with Coloured Illustrations of Their Eggs (1883–1885), have long fascinated and intrigued naturalists and biologists, due to their pointed shape and their vibrant and varied colours.

British Birds' Eggs and Nests, Popularly Described, by J C Atkinson (1862)
British Birds' Eggs and Nests, Popularly Described, by J C Atkinson (1862)

Egg collecting is now forbidden, but used to be part a young naturalist's training. John Christopher Atkinson wrote British Birds' Eggs and Nests, Popularly Described in 1862, so ‘that it may be interesting and useful to young egg-collectors’. In his introductory chapter, he defended himself against accusations of ‘cruelty’ from ‘some of his conscientious friends’: ‘If I thought there was any real (…) connection between a love of egg-hunting (…) and cruelty, I would not say another word for it or about it. But I am sure that the real lover of birds and their nests and eggs is not the boy who is chargeable with those torn and ruined nests (…) which grieve one as he walks along the lanes and hedge sides.’

Linnaeus's Coat of Arms
Linnaeus's Coat of Arms

The egg is central to the understanding of life. William Harvey (1578–1657) famously asserted that everything comes from an egg (ex ovo omnia). Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) readily adopted this, annotating a copy of Harvey's work. In an early botanical manuscript, Linnaeus drew an anatomised egg, and wrote that every egg must be impregnated to allow procreation—be it the seed of a plant or the egg of an animal. When in 1761 Linnaeus was ennobled and designed his own coat of arms, he placed an egg at the center of the escutcheon, whose three colours symbolised the three kingdoms of nature. Linnaeus's coat of arms was later integrated in the Linnean Society's coat of arms. 

The display ends with a reflection regarding the impact of man on birds and their eggs. It evokes the over-hunting and over-collecting that led to the extinction of the Great Auk in 1844, and the harmful effect of pesticides (notably DDT) on birds' eggs like the Peregrine's.

Come and see the display!

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.

Isabelle Charmantier, Deputy Librarian

26th September 2017: Smiley Faced Spiders Mon, 25 Sep 2017 23:00:00 +0000

A scientist at the University of Vermont and four of his undergraduate students have discovered 15 new species of “smiley-faced” spiders—and named them after, among others, David Attenborough, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

This was an undergraduate research project. In naming these spiders, the students and I wanted to honour people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change—leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world.

Ingi Agnarsson, Spider expert and Professor of Biology at UVM who led the new study.
Lily Sargeant, Ben Chomitz and Professor Ingi Agnarsson
Lily Sargeant, Ben Chomitz and Professor Ingi Agnarsson © Joshua Brown, University of Dermont

Until now, the beautiful yellow “smiley-faced spiders” in the genus Spintharus—named for a smiley face pattern on their abdomens—has been thought to have one widespread species “from northern North America down to northern Brazil,” Agnarsson says.

However, when a research team from the Caribbean Biogeography Project (CarBio)—spearheaded by Agnarsson and Greta Binford at Lewis & Clark College—examined spiders from Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, Florida, South Carolina, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia—they discovered that one widespread species was actually many endemic species. Using CarBio genetic work, and the Vermont students’ painstaking photography and lab work, the team—with support from the National Science Foundation—was able to identify and formally describe fifteen new species. “And if we keep looking, we’re sure there are more,” Agnarsson said.

Conservation concerns

The Caribbean region has long been known to scientists as a major global hotspot for biological diversity. The leading spider expert on the Spintharus genus in earlier decades, Herbert W Levi (1921–2014), had concluded that differences he observed in these spiders across a wide swath of geography represented variation within one species. But newer molecular techniques deployed by the project’s leaders, Agnarsson and Binford, show otherwise. “These are cryptic species,” Agnarsson says. “As Dr Levi’s work clearly showed, they are hard to tell apart by looking at them.” But the DNA data are clear: these spiders have not been interbreeding—exchanging genes—for millions of years.

Spiranthus davidattenboroughi © Agnarsson Lab
Spiranthus davidattenboroughi © Agnarsson Lab
Spintharus davidbowiei © Agnarsson Lab
Spintharus davidbowiei © Agnarsson Lab

Spintharus leonardodicaprioi © Agnarsson Lab
Spintharus leonardodicaprioi © Agnarsson Lab
Spintharus.berniesandersi © Agnarsson Lab
Spintharus.berniesandersi © Agnarsson Lab

The study was published September 26 in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. [LINK TO 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx056]

Media contact: Joshua BrownUniversity of Vermont

22nd September 2017: Linnaeus – on the run next week! Fri, 22 Sep 2017 10:08:00 +0000 Linnaeus on the run

Just one week now until our drama workshop, Linnaeus - Naming the World's Plants tours primary schools in Exeter and Plymouth. The workshop is part of a research project, funded by the Linnean Society, investigating the efficacy of drama as a pedagogical tool in science education. We are lucky to have an actor for the character of Linnaeus who is both a graduate biologist and a primary school teacher. Ben Jewell has a broad range of experience of educational and historical theatre, including this clip as John Benjamin Dancer for the BBC.

Six primary school Year 6 classes will get to meet Linnaeus, who arrives at their school on the run from Hamburg, where he has angered the city officials by revealing the city’s seven-headed hydra beast as a fake! Linnaeus will recruit the pupils as his apostles, putting them to the test with an explorer game, a classification task using live mosses, ferns and flowering plants. The students will also have the opportunity to create their own binomial plant names, using Linnaeus’s Latin dictionaries. The image shows Linnaeus’s trunk, which he carries from school to school.

24th August 2017: Science & Art Collide in North West London Thu, 24 Aug 2017 16:12:00 +0000 Graffiti

BioMedia Meltdown is back! The Linnean Society of London is once again teaming up with John Lyon’s Charity to deliver a creative science competition like no other.

From September the Linnean Learning team will be delivering free hands-on workshops around your borough. Young people will enjoy one of two fun-filled sessions. Take social media by storm designing and sharing an infographic on biodiversity, or channel your inner Banksy by creating street art that shows the importance of pollinators. All workshop creations can be entered into the competition. There are lots of great prizes to be won, such as Keeper for a Day at ZSL London Zoo.

The BioMedia Meltdown Competition is helping to reverse the decline in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) uptake in UK schools. Studies have found that engagement with STEM decreases dramatically during secondary school, which has led to a severe shortage in STEM skills across the UK. Our competition enthuses and inspires young people about biology, encouraging them to get creative in the name of science.

BMM ipads

If you live or know somebody living in Barnet, Brent, Camden, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Kensington & Chelsea and the Cities of London and Westminster, please pass on the competition details. 

We are also recruiting volunteer judges, ideally artists with knowledge on ecosystems and/or evolution (early February) and volunteers to speak to children about career opportunities in the arts and sciences (celebration event on 22 March 2018).  

Elisa Jones, Education Project Officer, 020 7434 4479 Ext 226

Twitter: @linneanlearning #BioMediaMeltdown

17th August: Adopt an 'Ortus Sanitatis' Thu, 17 Aug 2017 12:31:00 +0000 AdoptLinn
Ortus Sanitatis, 1491

The Library of the Linnean Society wants to conserve two of its oldest books, from the library of Carl Linnaeus. The two books are two different editions of the first natural history encyclopaedia, the Ortus (or Hortus) Sanitatis, or Garden of Health. The Ortus Sanitatis was first published by Jacob Meydenbach in Mainz, Germany in 1485. Linnaeus owned the second edition (1491) as well as the fourth edition (1499), published in Strasbourg by J. Prüss.

Written at the end of the Middle Ages, the Ortus Sanitatis is a wonderful window into an age when it was believed that the natural world had been created by God to be of use to humanity and that animals and plants were there to provide cures for diseases. The Ortus Sanitatis describes species in the natural world, from plants, to animals and minerals along with their medicinal uses and modes of preparation. It was also a world filled with wonder and belief in extraordinary creatures. Mythical creatures are therefore included, and the pages are filled with creatures such as the phoenix, dragon, mermaid and other monsters.


The work includes tracts on medicinal plants, animals, birds, fish; mining and gemstones; and a work on the analysis of urine. This last tract is illustrated by a woodcut showing medical men examining phials of urine, in a shop. Two children seem to be fighting in the foreground, perhaps afflicted by the choleric disposition that the physician is trying to diagnose.

The 1491 edition is particularly impressive, being one of the bulkiest books in the Library of Carl Linnaeus. The charm of this wonderful book rests in its woodcut illustrations. Many of the plants, while delightfully stylized, are easily recognizable, helped by the rudimentary colouring that was added by hand. There are numerous annotations throughout, in various hands. The title page (see above) indicates the numerous readers to which this book belonged, before coming into the hands of Linnaeus and, in 1784, of James Edward Smith and ultimately the Linnean Society. 

The 1499 copy is of particular Swedish interest: one entry at the end of the book is dated 1519 and gives the price given for it. In addition, an old Swedish print pasted on the inside of the cover indicates that the binding was done in Sweden. A name scribbled on the third page indicates that it once belonged to Olaus Johannes Holus [?].

Conservation of these two books is essential if they are to remain in use. Once damaged, such heavy volumes, when handled, soon deteriorate and access will become more restricted.

Ortus Sanitatis

In both books, the front boards are detached, exposing the first several pages to unnecessary wear and at risk of becoming adrift from the sewing stations. The missing spines has resulted in damage to the sewing cords and there is a danger that the rear boards will also detach. Some pages are torn and the paper has become fragile and prone to loss.

The aim of conservation will be to make the books safe to handle while still retaining their original features and any historic evidence. The boards will be re-attached and the sewing supports strengthened. The spines will be recovered and any fragile or torn pages repaired. A new box will be made for each book.

You can help us conserve these two beautiful books by adopting them through our AdoptLINN scheme. Due to the high level of expertise and intervention required, each book is within the AdoptLINN Treasures category: for £1,500, you can adopt one of the Ortus Sanitatis. The benefits include:

  • Your name will be permanently associated with the book you are adopting on the Online Library Catalogue.
  • You will receive a certificate with details of your item.
  • Your donation will be acknowledged on our website and proceedings.
  • A conservation demonstration by our Conservator for you and up to four guests.
  • Once conserved, your item will be displayed with an acknowledgement of your contribution.

Please contact the Library team if you are interested.

16th August 2017: Colours of Burlington House – A Chronicle Wed, 16 Aug 2017 10:45:00 +0000 RHS Display

Last Friday 11 August, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Society of Antiquaries, the Royal Astronomical Society, The Geological Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Linnean Society partnered in the celebration of the second Burlington House Courtyard Summer Late. 

After a successful kick-start in 2016, the six organisations decided to join forces once again under the common theme of colour. It proved a unique opportunity to meander around the Courtyard discovering the activities each Society had to offer. 

The Linnean Society had the pleasure of having Paul Henderson FLS who gave a short lecture on the use of colour by the influential James Sowerby. The talk was complemented by an exhibition on the development of colours in natural history books from the 16th to the 20th centuries. 

From unevenly hand-painted editions of 16th century herbals to printed colour nomenclatures of the 20th century, the display traces the standardisation of colours used by naturalists and illustrators, which revolutionised natural history works in the late 18th and early 19th century. One such work was John Sibthrop’s Flora Graeca (1806–1840), illustrated by the botanical artist Ferdinand Bauer, and engraved by James Sowerby.

Paul Henderson

Sowerby devised a method for obtaining a scale of colours with the only assistance of a triangular prism and daylight. The 'chromatometer' was his attempt to represent colours for natural history Illustration. Visitors were able to test it themselves to find the colours of the spectrum, as Sowerby explained in his book A New Elucidation of Colours (1809), also on display.

Making paints

Members of the public particularly enjoyed making badges with images derived from natural history books in our collections. Dr John David FLS, from the Royal Horticultural Society, brought the latest RHS colour charts and discussed colour nomenclatures and their uses in plant identification.

To conclude, visitors were able to express their creativity by making their own ‘do it yourself’ paints using natural ingredients while learning the chemistry behind the process. 

The Library exhibit, as well as Sowerby’s chromatometer, will be on display until Monday 11 September. Members of the public are welcome to drop in, but please be aware that the Library is sometimes closed for functions. Contact the Library for more details (+44 (0)20 7434 4479 EXT 223). Opening hours: Monday–Friday, 10am–5pm  

Alicia Fernandez, Events and Communications Manager & Isabelle Charmantier, Deputy Collections Manager / Librarian