Book of the Week: Taxonomy Before Linnaeus

Taxonomic literature can be divided into Pre-Linnaean and Post-Linnaean literature, with Post-Linnaean literature being those works published after Carl Linnaeus developed his famous naming and classification schema, binomial nomenclature. This week’s book of the week, Historia Vermium, is an interesting example of a Pre-Linnaean text. The Smithsonian’s copy, pictured here, is one of only two copies in the Western Hemisphere, according to OCLC, and one of only twelve in the world. The author, Joachim Jung, was known chiefly as a mathematician and astronomer, being considered on par with the likes of Galileo. He also focused many of his studies on natural history, particularly in the realm of botany. Historia Vermium, like many of Jung’s works, was published posthumously.

Jung is significant when exploring the development of the Linnaean taxonomic system because, first in his botany works and later in additional works, such as Historia Vermium, he introduced a classification system that was based upon a genera and species naming schema. In fact, Jung created a naming terminology that was later perfected by Linnaeus in his binomial nomenclature. To classify and group species, Jung attempted to understand the analogies between the organs and anatomical features of the species he studied, rather than focusing on some of the more surface-related features that other scientists of his time were focused on. (To learn more about Joachim Jung, click here).

Building on the important studies done by Jung and other scientists, Linnaeus would later introduce one of the most significant contributions to the study of like on earth at that time: binomial nomenclature. Although the Linnaeus system has been modified over time to reflect the theory of evolution, it is still remembered as the building block upon which taxonomy was founded.

To view this week’s book of the week, Historia Vermium, (1691) by Joachim Jung, contributed by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, click here.

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Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.