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Natural History can be seen as a discipline paradigmatically engaged in 'data-driven research.' Historians of early modern science have begun to emphasize its crucial role in the Scientific Revolution, and some observers of present day genomics see it as engaged in a return to natural history practices. A key concept that was developed to understand the dynamics of early modern natural history is that of 'information overload.' Taxonomic systems, rules of nomenclature, and technical terminologies were developed in botany and zoology to catch up with the ever increasing amount of information on hitherto unknown plant and animal species. In our contribution, we want to expand on this concept. After all, the same people who complain about information overload are usually the ones who contribute to it most significantly. In order to understand this complex relationship, we will turn to the annotation practices of the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). The very tools that Linnaeus developed to contain and reduce information overload, as we aim to demonstrate, facilitated a veritable information explosion that led to the emergence of a new research object in botany: the so-called 'natural' system. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Staffan Müller-Wille, Isabelle Charmantier. Natural history and information overload: The case of Linnaeus. Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences. 2012 Mar;43(1):4-15

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PMID: 22326068

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