Professor Sverker Sörlin, of the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, talked about Carolus Linnaeus on Sunday at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Linnaeus proposed a biological classification system, still used today. Some of the ways used to classify data on the web have similarities.
Professor Sörlin showed an excerpt from Linné - An Ordered Mind a docudrama by Otto Fagerstedt, made to commenorate the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus' birth (a preview is available from Swedish TV). He suggested the ABC might like to broadcast the series, but perhaps it would suit SBS TV better.
Professor Sörlin was not completely positive about Linnaeus, suggesting he exploited his students by sending them on dangerous expeditions around the world (half the students did not return) with little or no pay and then taking credit for their research results. The question as to how much of their intellectual property students own, is still an issue in universities today. He commented that Linnaeus was as much interested in finding plants and other resources which Sweden could exploit, as in scientific knowledge. He suggested that Linnaeus' accounts of his journeys were somewhat exaggerated (like the average travel blog today). He also pointed out how Linnaeus artfully promoted expeditions to government and business. In a way Linnaeus was a prototype for the modern university Professor, who is more business person than academic.
One interesting point for Australia is that Dr. Daniel Solander, one of Linnaeus' estranged students, accompanied Joseph Banks on Cook's Endeavour voyage around the world.
On display outside the Museum was a biofuel Saab car, designed to run on alcohol.
ps: At the Web Standards Group Meeting in Canberra 26 July, 2007 on Social computing for government and business, one of the audience commented that creating taxonomies of information was not something newly invited for the web, but had been done by Linnaeus, 300 years before.