Bureaucracy : Classifying

Classifying

Classifying is a key principle of bureaucracy, one that is arguably present in any bureaucratic form.  Modern classificatory paradigms have their own, particular history, which emerged out of natural history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And, even if it is no longer the dominant mode of knowledge production, classification is nonetheless an inescapable one. It occurs on grand scales as often as it does miniscule ones, in projects to catalog and identify all known plants and in the organization of documents in file folders. 

Nova Genera et Species Plantarum (New Varieties and Species of Plants) contains an extensive collection of descriptions and illustrations of 4,500 plant species. Published in Paris by botanist Carl Sigismund Kunth, the book is one of seven volumes documenting the botanical collections that Alexander Humboldt and Amié Bonpland completed on their 1799-1804 travels through Spanish America (what is now Mexico and South America). 

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Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, published this long, annotated poem in two parts: Part II, Loves of the Plants, originally appeared in 1789, and Part I, The Economy of Vegetation, followed in 1791. Loves of the Plants rendered Linnaeus’s binomial system of plant classification in ornate, allegorical poetry: the stamen and pistils of each plant appear as the blushing, bowing, kissing, cavorting maids and swains of a pastoral romance, while the voluminous notes explain the scientific concepts behind the behaviors represented in the verse.

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Comprising a zoological selection from Edward Topsell’s The Historie of Foure-footed Beastes (1607) and The Historie of Serpents (1608), The Elizabethan Zoo was edited by twentieth-century historian and scholar of Tudor England, Muriel St. Clare Byrne. The book depicts zoological creatures, both real and mythical, ranging from Lions to Lamias. Combining natural history, folklore, and mythology, Byrne’s Zoo represents each creature with a reproduction of Topsell’s woodblock illustration hovering above a description transcribed verbatim from the original text. Fabulous creatures sit side-by-side with specimens from far-off locals relatively unknown in seventeenth-century England, provoking the modern reader to question the purpose of Byrne’s republication of this curious content.

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Still used today by homeschooling families, Outlines of Lessons in Botany: For the use of Teachers, or Mothers Studying with their Children is a charming text published in two volumes. The first volume, From Seed to Leaf, includes information about different types of plants and their uses. The second volume, Flower and Fruit, provides information about flowers, fruits, and their different uses. 

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La creación is a nine-volume set of natural histories based on the wide ranging travels of zoologist Alfred Edmund Brehm (1829-1884). This Spanish edition was published in 1880 in Barcelona, four years before the author’s death; it was translated from the latest German edition. Brehm, a German zoologist and illustrator, went on expeditions to Africa, Scandinavia, Siberia, and Egypt, among other places. On those travels he collected information about and, in some cases, live specimens of, the animals and people he encountered. The first volume, shown here, displays racial and anatomical classifications of humans and animals. While Brehm’s title promises to describe the animal kingdom, the book begins with descriptions and classifications of human bodies—skulls, vertebrae, and so on—before proceeding to zoology.

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