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Celebrating the 350th anniversary of John Ray’s Catalogue of Cambridge Plants, 1660: the first English “County Flora”, 3 November 2010

Celebrating the 350th anniversary of John Ray’s Catalogue of Cambridge Plants, 1660: the first English “County Flora”, 3 November 2010

The Joint meeting between the Society for the History of Natural History and the Ray Society to celebrate the 350th anniversary of John Ray’s Catalogue of Cambridge Plants, 1660: the first English “County Flora” took place in Cambridge University Library, on Wednesday 3rd November 2010.  The Morison room provided an ideal venue for the event, giving the 44 registered participants an opportunity to see the current public exhibition “Dream voices, Siegfried Sassoon, Memory and war” on their arrival and departure, as well as a Library exhibition showing John Ray’s works, sources and successors: “A great deal in a little room” – John Ray’s Cambridge catalogue (1660)".

The focus of the event was the forthcoming publication of a new translation of the “Catalogue of Cambridge Plants 1660” by the Ray Society and the first speaker, Dr Chris Preston, one of the co-authors of that work, changed our view of John Ray, as presented by Canon Raven’s work, discussing the structure of the “Catalogus”, Ray’s information sources and Ray’s possible co-authors among other aspects which emerged as part of the work done by him and Philip Oswald.  Their use of resources in the Cambridge University Library made this a particularly relevant occasion.  They were followed by a more detailed look at the availability of Ray’s bibliographic sources and the contents of his own library by Dr Karen Reeds. After this the programme reverted to more botanical considerations with Dr Mark Hill talking on Ray as an early worker on mosses and liverworts, with the addition of the mosses being highlighted on the title page of Ray’s second edition. The morning session finished with Alex Wragge-Morley explaining to us the formalities underlying the ways knowledge was communicated in Ray’s time and their belief that this could change the moral and ethical disposition of their readers, which choice of the right scale for metaphors and similes being of prime importance, giving examples for Ray’s own writings.

Delegates had an opportunity to view the accompanying Library display during the lunch break, after enjoying excellent refreshments provided by the University Library catering services.  The captions for the display were available to all in printed form, the extensive notes being prepared with assistance from the University Library staff. We are most grateful to Philip Oswald, Chris Preston and Emily Dourish for all their hard work in making this available and to Bill Noblett for facilitating the display and the use of the Morison Room.

The afternoon session embraced wider aspects of Ray and his legacy. His zoological work was clearly presented by Prof Tim Birkhead, who introduced us to Ray’s “Wisdom of God” as well as to  Ray’s patron, Francis Willughby  and their “grand tour”  focussed on ornithology.  The “Ornithology”was published in 1676  under Willughby’s name although actually Ray’s work.   The next speaker, Prof, Paul Foster, discussed the links between John Ray and Gilbert White, with particular reference to White’s  “Calendar of Flora”, one of the  main source for White’s natural history information being Ray’s “Methodus Plantarum” of 1682. The last speaker, Prof. Sam Berry, extended our view of Ray by showing the progression from the physico-theology of Ray as exemplified in the “Wisdom of God” to “Intelligent design” in the present day, showing us how ideas and concepts evolved as might be expected from an evolutionary biologist.

Thanks are expressed to the Cambridge University Library, for providing such an appropriate venue for the meriting, with excellent support staff and facilities, to all those involved in mounting the accompanying exhibition and to all the speakers, as well as to Professor David Mabberley, a member of the Ray Society Council and former SHNH President for chairing the first session and to Dr Isabelle Charmantier, a member of the current SHNH Council, for chairing the afternoon session.    

Gina Douglas SHNH Meetings Secretary

5 November 2010

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