The Lost Art of Naming the World

August 27, 2009


Recently, I read an article in the New York Times by Carol Kaesuk Yoon called "Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World". The article was accompanied by the image above by naturalist Ernst Haekel from his "Artforms in Nature", showing a profusion of hummingbird species. The article, which can be found here, is about the decline of the field of taxonomy. It goes on to explore the reasons for it's decline, the implications of that, and digs a little deeper into what is behind the human impulse to sort and name the natural world. Yoon laments ( and rightfully so I think) that by abandoning taxonomy we are losing a connection to and a place in the living world. Having an awareness of the variety of life around us affirms our place in it. So start your reconnection this weekend by finding an insect, and looking it up on here or a bird and finding it's name here. Make Carl Linneaus proud.

5 comments:

  1. I cannot thank you enough for bringing this to my attention. I would've missed it otherwise! We have a Victorian museum cabinet chock full of hummingbirds in close quarters at the NHM. Just one of the many things I'll show you when you come visit me someday!

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  2. i read this article already Diana, since I got in the habit of buying the Times every day a couple of years ago. Great illustration on it got my attention right away. Glad you saw it too, the writer is spot on of course.

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  3. Karen - I'm so glad that you have now seen the article too. I'm sure you have a very interesting and insightful perspective on the issues that Yoon writes about. I was thinking about you and the folks I volunteer for at the Field museum when I read it. And oh boy, you have no idea how I am itching to come to London!

    Mark - yeah, the illustration snagged me too!

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  4. Highly recommend a film called 'Proteus' which is a fantastic documentary about Haekel- it gives an interesting overview of his life and work with some amazing use of his art

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  5. Kirk - Thanks for the movie tip! I'll be sure to check it out.

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