A Naturalist between Two Worlds

Field Collecting in Claude Gay’s Forging of a Scientific Career in Chile and France


  • Daniela Serra The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile




field collecting , natural history, natural knowledge, Claude Gay, Chile, France


In the 1830s, European naturalists traveled to South America to gain experience as field collectors, a practice increasingly important to natural history and the production of scientific knowledge as the nineteenth century progressed. This article explores the strategies followed by the French naturalist Claude Gay (1800-1873) in his attempt to make a name for himself in the eyes of both the Chilean and French scientific communities and governments, as he established his career as a field collector. Gay had to forge credibility among local social circles and hierarchies to win the financial support of the Chilean government, while simultaneously pursuing a career and a reputation as a naturalist in France. This article analyzes Gay’s practices and strategies for each community and discusses the extent to which his field practices were influenced not only by the scientific knowledge, experience, and instruments used, but also by the social, political, and economic context in which he developed his scientific work.






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