Naturalists' practices and nature's empire: Paris and the Platypus, 1815-1833

Jr Burkhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Among the multiple interactions between governments and museums that were so important for the growth of natural history in the nineteenth century, perhaps none looked more promising at its inception than did the special "school for naturalist voyagers" that was instituted at the Museum of Natural History in Paris in 1819. Proposed initially by the French Minister of the Interior, who also promised to fund the operation, the idea of the school was to train young naturalists who could then be sent off to the far corners of the globe in search of plants, animals, and minerals useful to France and interesting to science. The professors of the Museum were enthusiastic about the Minister's idea. However, aligning the interests of the naturalists at the Museum with those of the French government and a collection of young, aspiring naturalist voyagers was not an entirely straightforward matter. This paper considers the school for naturalist voyagers in the light of France's prior experiences with naturalist voyages (most notably the Baudin expedition to Australia), her most pressing colonial needs in the early years of the Restoration, and the practices of the naturalists of the Paris Museum. The platypus makes an appearance here amidst a contest over the control of specimens. Finally, we consider notions of "the empire of nature" and what resonance such notions might have had at the Paris Museum at the time the school for naturalists was promoted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-341
Number of pages15
JournalPacific Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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