An Eighteenth-Century Ecology of Knowledge: Patronage and Natural History


  • Linda Andersson Burnett Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University, Sweden



Ecology of Knowledge, Patronage, Natural History, Scotland, George Low, Concurrent Narratives


This article analyses the construction and dissemination of natural-history knowledge in the eighteenth century. It takes the mapping and narration of Orkney as a case study, focusing on the local minister and amateur natural-historian George Low and his network of patron-client relationships with such prominent natural historians as Joseph Banks and Thomas Pennant. It focuses too on Low‘s network of informants and assistants among local island farmers, and argues that canonical natural-history texts were the products of collaborative and interdependent processes that included a large number of actors from all strata of society. To conceptualise how natural-history knowledge was created in this period, the article applies the metaphoric description ‘an ecology of knowledge’. This approach enables a focus on a large number of actors, their collaboration and influence on each other, while also paying attention to asymmetrical power relationships in which competition and appropriation took place.


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Theme: Concurrences: Culture Bound and Unbound