The British Journal for the History of Science

Research Article

Linnaeans outdoors: the transformative role of studying nature ‘on the move’ and outside


a1 School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK. Email:


Travelling is an activity closely associated with Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778) and his circle of students. This article discusses the transformative role of studying nature outdoors (turning novices into naturalists) in eighteenth-century Sweden, using the little-known journeys of Carl Bäck (1760–1776), Sven Anders Hedin (1750–1821) and Johan Lindwall (1743–1796) as examples. On these journeys, through different parts of Sweden in the 1770s, the outdoors was used, simultaneously, as both a classroom and a space for exploration. The article argues that this multifunctional use of the landscape (common within the Linnaean tradition) encouraged a democratization of the consumption of scientific knowledge and also, to some degree, of its production. More generally, the study also addresses issues of how and why science and scientists travel by discussing how botanical knowledge was reproduced and extended ‘on the move’, and what got senior and junior students moving.

(Online publication June 14 2010)

This article is partially based on results from the Learning and Teaching in the Name of Science – A Study of Linnaeus and His Students research project financed by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet). The work of preparing and writing this article has been made possible by financial support from the thoughtful and unorthodox trustees of Helge Ax:son Johnsson's Stiftelse, to whom I am very grateful. I would also like to thank Kenneth Nyberg for his insightful suggestions. Other scholars who have contributed with advice and to whom I am indebted are Jenny Beckman, Hjalmar Fors, Simon Naylor, Åsa Karlsson and Mariette Manktelow. I would also like to express my gratitude for the help I received from the knowledgeable and accommodating staff of Hagströmerbiblioteket (Karolinska institutet, Stockholm) and the staff of Forskarläsesalen in Uppsala University Library.