Project Description

Author: Cook, Alexandra
Title: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and botany: the salutary science

Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 2012

Universally studied for his writings on politics, philosophy, music and education, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s interest in botany has been deemed a mere curiosity. In this award-winning reinterpretation, Alexandra Cook demonstrates how this activity shaped and was shaped by his philosophy. Rousseau’s botanical project was informed by his belief in the superiority of nature over artifice – a principle illustrated in his famous Lettres élémentaires sur la botanique, in which he used the ‘natural method’ of plant classification that eventually displaced other taxonomic systems. Based on a wide range of original sources, the book traces Rousseau’s botanical education, the complex history of his plant collections, and his participation in scientific correspondence networks. It reveals how his botanical writings were manipulated and misinterpreted following his death. This richly illustrated study, supported by inventories of his botanical library, correspondents and herbaria, provides an unprecedented insight into Rousseau’s study and practice of botany; not simply an intellectual pursuit, it became part of his physical and psychological self-discipline. The book received the HKU Arts Faculty Research Output Prize, 2012-13 and the John Thackray Medal of the Society for the History of Natural History (U.K.), 2013. According to the Thackray Medal award panel, ‘Dr Cook’s scholarship is impressive. Her interpretation of Rousseau’s taxonomic views, how they developed and how (and why) they have been distorted by later commentators, is original and compelling.’

Library record