Carolus Linnaeus. Philosophia Botanica in qva explicantvr fvndementa botanica cvm definitionibvs partium, exemplis terminorvm, observationibvs rariorvm. Berlin: C.F. Himburgi, 1780. Anthony R. Michaelis Collection, gift of J. Philip Gibbs, Jr. 




The development of a systematic method for classifying species was an important development of the eighteenth century, for by helping to clarify relationships among species it provided a step toward later evolutionary theories. The most important of the classifiers was the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778).  He published the first outline of his schema, Systema Naturae, in the 1730s while studying in the rich botanical gardens of the Netherlands, including the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam.  Later he collected and classified plants and animals in his native Sweden, and encouraged young naturalists to build the classification structure by collecting and cataloging species, both in their native regions and in previously unexamined parts of the world.  The original outline of his system was published as a short pamphlet, but it would go through numerous revisions and expansions, and it eventually grew to a multi-volume work.   The book included in Darwin’s Ancestors, the Philosophia Botanica, written late in life, provided an introduction to the system.

Linnaeus’s classification scheme was innovative for replacing the long and often confusing plant names of the era with “binomials” consisting of a generic name followed by a specific name. Linnaeus also introduced a classification system structured as a hierarchy, consisting of Kingdoms, Phyla, Classes, Orders, Genera and Species. These groupings are based upon common physical characteristics between organisms, and his plant classification in particular was based on sexual characteristics.

While most of his groupings are no longer in use today, Linnaeus’s hierarchical principles and binomial nomenclature are still basic structures of science. He believed that he was classifying God’s creation, and was fond of saying Deus creavit, Linnaeus disposvit  - “God created, Linnaeus organized.”    


Back                       Next



Bryn Mawr College Special Collections