Article ID: CBB076326273

Specimens, Slips and Systems: Daniel Solander and the Classification of Nature at the World's First Public Museum, 1753–1768 (2018)


The British Museum, based in Montague House, Bloomsbury, opened its doors on 15 January 1759, as the world's first state-owned public museum. The Museum's collection mostly originated from Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), whose vast holdings were purchased by Parliament shortly after his death. The largest component of this collection was objects of natural history, including a herbarium made up of 265 bound volumes, many of which were classified according to the late seventeenth-century system of John Ray (1627–1705). The 1750s saw the emergence of Linnaean binomial nomenclature, following the publication of Carl Linnaeus' Species Plantarum (1753) and Systema Naturae (1758). In order to adopt this new system for their collections, the Trustees of the British Museum chose to employ the Swedish naturalist and former student of Linnaeus, Daniel Solander (1733–1782) to reclassify the collection. Solander was ordered to devise a new system for classifying and cataloguing Sloane's natural history collection, which would allow both Linnaeans and those who followed earlier systems to access it. Solander's work was essential for allowing the British Museum to realize its aim of becoming a public centre of learning, adapting the collection to reflect the diversity of classificatory practices which were existent by the 1760s. This task engaged Solander until 1768, when he received an offer from Joseph Banks (1743–1820) to accompany him on HMS Endeavour to the Pacific.

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Authors & Contributors
Rose, Edwin
Cooper, Andrew
Fontanelli, Elisa
Bil, Geoff
Nichols, Kate
Visconti, Agnese
Archives of Natural History
History of Science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Schede Umanistiche
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Pavia University Press
Oxford University Press
British Museum Press
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Natural history
Collectors and collecting
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Solander, Daniel Charles
Walker, John
Sloane, Hans
Poli, Giuseppe Saverio
Haller, Albrecht von
Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc de
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
17th century
20th century, early
20th century
Edinburgh (Scotland)
British Isles
Jamaica (Caribbean)
British Museum
Hunterian Museum (London)
Royal Society of London
Royal College of Surgeons, London
Crystal Palace

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