On the history of malacology

Just launched: a new site on the history of malacology! It is named Malacohistory and can be found following the link in the picture below.

Schermafbeelding 2016-07-30 om 13.38.42

The introduction reads “Some regard Aristotle as the first malacologist (Coan & Kabat, 2016), but it is not that far that we like to go back in time with this site on malacohistory. Rather we prefer to focus on the 19th and 20th century when malacology became fashionable among amateurs and also the first professional malacologists appeared as staff members of natural history museums. Collecting shells, however, started much earlier (see e.g. Dance, 1966 for an extensive review), and the interest for snails as such is notable in literature and visual arts from early on in history (see the site Huntingforsnails). For practical reasons, we will focus especially on European malacologists, their collections and their fate, and the context in which they operated. (…) Both well-known persons will come across as well as hitherto completely unknown people who contributed (often in a modest way) to European malacology. We intend to publish on this site data that we obtained through our research, background data used for publications, and preliminary data. This can be either biographical data, data on the location of (part of) collections, and other facts that help to explain the development of malacology in Europe. Also new insights from literature and methodological notes may find its place here in blog posts”.

Big questions, small bricks
Is this site a hobby-ish endeavour or is it aimed at contributing to a ‘Bigger Picture’? The latter sounds pretentious, but nevertheless it is possible to come up with some big questions to which this site may lead to (or is at least hoped for) helping formulate some answers. How did malacology develop in Europe? Where were the centres of activity and how did these develop over time? Who were the driving persons and how were they linked? What was the role of scientific societies in relation to malacology in different parts of the continent? What other factors did influence the development of molluscan studies? What was the role of amateurs, professionals, and shell dealers, and how did the balance between these groups change over time? What was the role of women? How did specialised journals foster the discipline of malacology? To summarise: how was the ancient science network of malacology shaped in Europe during these centuries (and especially the period 1850–1950)?
Clearly a lot of questions and for the moment in most cases only a beginning of an answer or a vague feeling in which direction we have to search for it. However, hopefully the posts on this site will act as small bricks from which a solid building can be erected in the end. And, as one of my tutors, Pieter Wagenaar Hummelinck always said: “We can not all be masons, there must also be people who bring the stones”.

So far, only a limited number of posts have been published, but contributions of readers are very welcomed. The site is edited by Cédric Audibert (Musée des Confluences, Centre de conservation et d’étude des collections, Lyon, France) and myself.


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