Petter Hellström at the Biological Interest Group – 19th February, 2-3pm, Byrne House

For the second meeting of  the Biological Interest Group this year, we had Petter Hellström, from Uppsala University (Sweden), discussing a drafted chapter from his doctoral thesis, entitled ‘”A Figure Like That of a Family Tree” – Augustin Augier and the Botanical tree’.

Amongst the topics of discussion, the group considered the difference between diagrams and trees, as well as some of their epistemic powers and limitations. We also considered some problems of changing definitions, of how to interpret confused explanations in the historical sources, or how to account for the lack of definitions in the same. The group also considered some of the differences between species and genus as indicating essential traits or essential relations, as well as how this affects knowledge of natural or (rational) artificial systems of botanical cases.

Petter’s doctoral dissertation is entitled Trees of Knowledge: Science and the Shape of Genealogy, which investigates the use of family trees for the organisation of knowledge more broadly, but with close historical focus on France around the year of 1800. His work is not only concerned with family trees in natural history, but also with contemporary trees in philology, medicine, music, and even the order of knowledge itself. The work is structured around three case studies, each of which is concerned with a relatively unknown tree maker and his tree. The chapter that we discussed concerns the botanical tree of Augustin Augier (1801). Petter will defend his doctoral thesis later this year at Uppsala University.


Augier, A., Essai d’une nouvelle classification des végétaux, conforme à l’ordre que la nature paroît avoir suivi dans le règne végétal; d’où résulte une méthode qui conduit à la connoissance des plantes & de leurs rapports naturels, Par le C[itoyen]. Augustin Augier (Lyon: Bruyset Ainé et Comp., 1801)