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Journal Article

Specimen Lists: Artisanal Writing or Natural Historical Paperwork?

Valentina Pugliano
Vol. 103, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 716-726
DOI: 10.1086/669049
Stable URL:
Page Count: 11
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ABSTRACTThe epistolary exchanges of early modern natural history have long been of interest to historians of science, as they reflect the dynamic nature of the emergent discipline better than the printed volumes of natural history. Less attention, at least until recently, has been paid to the unfinished pieces, the cryptic marginalia, and the practical notes that more often than not accompanied letters. Lists of specimens sent or requested were among the new tools at the naturalist's disposal for dealing with a scientific world increasingly populated by objects. This essay seeks to reconstruct the genealogy of specimen lists by focusing on little-known apothecaries in northern Italy: the individuals traditionally held to be social counterparts to these modest strings of words. It seems that the operations at the back of the shop and the literature generated by the centuries-old drug and spice trades may have been a more defining influence on early modern naturalists than the humanist practices of indexing and commonplacing that were concurrently embraced by Italian studiosi.