Assembling the dodo in early modern natural history
British Journal for the History of Science
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Lawrence, N. (2015). Assembling the dodo in early modern natural history. British Journal for the History of Science, 48 387-408. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087415000011
This paper explores the assimilation of the flightless dodo into early-modern natural history. The dodo was first described by Dutch sailors landing on Mauritius in 1598, and became extinct in the 1680s or ‘90s. Despite this brief period of encounter, the bird was a popular subject in natural history works and a range of other genres. The dodo will be used here as a counter-example to the historical narratives of taxonomic crisis and abrupt shifts in natural history caused by exotic creatures coming to Europe. Though this bird had a bizarre form, early-modern naturalists integrated the dodo and other flightless birds through several levels of conceptual categorisation, including the geographical, morphological and symbolic. Naturalists such as Charles L’Écluse produced a set of typical descriptive tropes that helped make up the European dodo. These long-lived images were used for a variety of symbolic purposes, demonstrated by the depiction of the Dutch East India enterprise in Willem Piso’s 1658 publication. The case of the dodo shows that, far from there being a dramatic shift away from emblematism in the seventeenth century, the implicit symbolic roles attributed to exotic beasts by naturalists constructing them from scant information and specimens remained integral to natural history.
This article is the result of research carried out for my PhD thesis, funded by the AHRC.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087415000011
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/247543
Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales
Licence URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/
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