Walking tours

Andanson Famille des plantes ouvrage_grande 1763My first semester at the University of British Columbia, I had the great pleasure of working with the wonderful Dr. Carla Patterson and the students of UBC’s interdisciplinary History/Biology 101 “Mix” class. This class included both material from biology and the history of science to give students a deeper understanding of how science and history are connected. Students visited the Woodward archive on campus in which they looked at the huge illustrated volumes on insects of René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (1683-1757) and the classifications tables of Carl Linneaus (1707-1778). They also got outside: as part of the course, we took students on an environmental walking tour of campus.

The entire UBC campus is a veritable garden! Students who stop to notice the plants they pass are richly rewarded. The Vancouver grounds used to be a working farm and then an experimental garden and vestiges of this agricultural legacy remain throughout campus. In eighteenth-century Paris, walking tours of plant collections were popular. These included visits to gardens outdoors and of specimens in an indoor “cabinet” (i.e. dedicated piece of furniture or room in which items were artfully displayed).

I have been investigating the works of the French naturalist Michel Adanson (1727-1806), whose natural system of taxonomy challenged the binomial system of naming plants that was promoted by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). Adanson had traveled to what is now Senegal in 1749. Over the course of his four and a half years there, he developed a system of categorizing plants and animals according to myriad characteristics. He felt this more complicated system better reflected nature as he experienced it. Back in Paris, he created a number of large demonstration gardens and offered botanical walking tours of Paris. Adanson’s walking tours often included an elaborate lunch. It would be interesting to know what these elite Parisians ate and what plants they perused as they strolled the Paris streets. What did they hope to learn from M. Adanson’s course?