Diagrammatic Classifications of Birds, 1819-1901: Views of the Natural System in 19th-Century British Ornithology

Acta XIX Congressus Internationalis Ornithologici (H. Ouellet, ed.), pp. 2746-2759. Ottawa: National Museum of Natural Sciences, 1988

18 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2015

Date Written: 1988

Abstract

Classifications of animals and plants have long been represented by hierarchical lists of taxa, but occasional authors have drawn diagrammatic versions of their classifications in an attempt to better depict the “natural relationships” of their organisms. Ornithologists in 19th-century Britain produced and pioneered many types of classificatory diagrams, and these fall into three groups: (a) the quinarian systems of Vigors and Swainson (1820s and 1830s); (b) the “maps” of Strickland and Wallace (1840s and 1850s); and (c) the evolutionary diagrams of the post-Darwin authors (1860 on). The quinarians distinguished between affinity and analogy and used both in their classifications, whereas Strickland rejected the quinarians’ belief in numerical regularity and their use of analogy. Wallace’s “maps” are easily given an evolutionary interpretation, and his approach was taken up and modified by later evolutionary anatomists. Sharpe returned to Strickland’s methods and merely appended a superficial evolutionary interpretation. Contrary to common belief systematics has a rich conceptual history, and many of the conceptual developments in 19th-century systematics were made by ornithologists.

Keywords: history of science, philosophy of science, natural history, systematics, classification, taxonomy, visual representation, diagrams

Suggested Citation

O’Hara, Robert J., Diagrammatic Classifications of Birds, 1819-1901: Views of the Natural System in 19th-Century British Ornithology (1988). Acta XIX Congressus Internationalis Ornithologici (H. Ouellet, ed.), pp. 2746-2759. Ottawa: National Museum of Natural Sciences, 1988, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2558081

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