Skip to main content


"Mapping Plant Life: From Humboldt to Early Ecology" Nils Guettler (ETH Zurich)

Egenis seminar series

Egenis seminar series - Botanical distribution maps are a crucial tool for scientific ecology. For a long time, historians of ecology could agree on the notion that this has always been the case and [accordingly] have concentrated on the alleged "golden age“ of this map genre, as drawn by famous first-generation plant geographers such as Alexander von Humboldt. Rather than pursuing this line of inquiry, this talk focuses on botanical maps after this initial age of discovery. It detects both a quantitative explosion and qualitative modification of botanical distribution maps in the late 19th century. By spotlighting the case of the plant geographer Oscar Drude (1852-1933) and others it argues that the dynamics of botanical mappings were closely linked to a specific milieu of knowledge production: the visual culture of Imperial Germany. The scientific upgrading of maps was stimulated by a prospering commercial cartographical market as well as a widespread practice of mediating between professionals and amateurs via maps in the public sphere. In transferring skills and practices from these "popular" fields of knowledge to scientific domains, botanists like Oscar Drude established maps as an indispensable element of botanical observation. This wholesale dissemination of botanical maps had thus a formative influence on collective perception - the botanist's "period eye" - regarding plant distribution.

Event details


Byrne House