Ordering the Myriad Things: From Traditional Knowledge to Scientific Botany in China


Ordering the Myriad Things: From Traditional Knowledge to Scientific Botany in China Author: Editor: K. Sivaramakrishnan Format: Paperback / softback First Published: Published By: University of Washington Press
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Pages: 312 Illustrations and other contents: 23 b&w illus., 1 table Language: English ISBN: 9780295749464 Categories: , , , , , ,

China’s vast and ancient body of documented knowledge about plants includes horticultural manuals and monographs, comprehensive encyclopedias, geographies, and specialized anthologies of verse and prose written by keen observers of nature. Until the late nineteenth century, however, standard practice did not include deploying a set of diagnostic tools using a common terminology and methodology to identify and describe new and unknown species or properties.

Ordering the Myriad Things relates how traditional knowledge of plants in China gave way to scientific botany between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, when plants came to be understood in a hierarchy of taxonomic relationships to other plants and within a broader ecological context. This shift not only expanded the universe of plants beyond the familiar to encompass unknown species and geographies but fueled a new knowledge of China itself. Nicholas K. Menzies highlights the importance of botanical illustration as a tool for recording nature-contrasting how images of plants were used in the past to the conventions of scientific drawing and investigating the transition of “traditional” systems of organization, classification, observation, and description to “modern” ones.

Weight0.5499664 kg





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"A useful glossary of names, places, and botanical terms in Chinese and English, along with the detailed index, make this work valuable for researchers but the story is accessible to general readers. This book will fascinate anyone interested in botany and the geopolitical dimensions of modern science." * Choice * "This is a well-researched and well-written study of an important part of the history of botany, and of the resourcefulness and determination of Chinese botanists. It belongs in botanical and horticultural libraries everywhere, and as a story, it is recommended to anyone with an interest in plants and how they are studied." * The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries * "An indispensable addition to our still rather limited knowledge of scientific development in late Imperial and Republican China. Books such as this one are instrumental in putting together the complicated and at times complexing puzzle of the emergence and development of modern scientific practice in China, a process, which has consequences up to the present day." * Social History of Medicine * "Ordering the Myriad Things sets out to show how two knowledge systems—one that preoccupied itself by trying to understand how processes of change generated and manifested themselves through things such grasses, trees, and grains and another that sought understanding by making encountered objects the object of study themselves—interacted and ultimately became intertwined." * Journal of Chinese History * "Menzies presents a process-focused chronicle of how one newly emergent scientific discipline—botany—was introduced to China and developed by successive generations of Chinese botanists...Excellent, engaging, and well-written." * H-Net Reviews * "In this scrupulously researched monograph, Nicholas K. Menzies narrates personal, institutional, and scientific stories in astonishing and vivid detail to create a sweeping narrative of the establishment of the modern science of botany in China." * Isis, a Journal of the History of Science Society * "A fascinating and well-researched inquiry into the development of modern Chinese botany." * Monumenta Serica * "[A] welcome presentation of the history of modern botany in China. . . . The thought-provoking questions raised by Menzies and his analytical approach are sure to make this book instructive reading for historians of natural history." * Archives of Natural History *

Author Biography

Nicholas K. Menzies is Research Fellow in Chinese Botanical Science at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. He is author of Our Forest, Your Ecosystem, Their Timber: Communities, Conservation, and the State in Community-Based Forest Management.