Dispatches from Abroad: Cancelled by Neglect?

I’m coming to the end of a wonderful four-month fellowship at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala, Sweden, a city that celebrates at every turn its most illustrious citizen: the 18th-century botanist, zoologist, and “father of modern taxonomy,” Carl Linnaeus (a.k.a. Carl von Linné or simply “Linnaeus”) (1707–1778). From the eight trails on which he took his students every spring to learn about the geology, ecosystems, plants, and animals surrounding Uppsala—the Herbationes Upsalienses—to his grave in the Uppsala Cathedral, there is some place to visit and something to do every long day of the late spring and summer months to celebrate his legacy. I’ll write more about that another time, but today, I want to write about the disappearance from historical memory of one of his daughters, Sara Christina (1751–1835).

A pastel portrait of Sara Christina von Linne
Pastel portrait of Sara Christina von Linné; Uppsala University collection

One of Linnaeus’s five children (a son and four daughters), Sara Christina, like her sisters, was, to quote Uppsala University’s online Linné and the tour-guides’ spiel at Hammarby, his well-preserved country estate, raised to be a “strong, competent housekeeper.” She apparently succeeded well in this role, taking care of her mother after Linnaeus’s death, marrying her younger sister’s brother-in law, and, after the death of her husband, spending her remaining years at their farm in Gränby, about 4 km northeast from the center of Uppsala (for a few more details, see her short Wikipedia page).

One of the 16 places of interest in Uppsala linked to Linnaeus, and the only one I had not yet visited as of yesterday in my time in Uppsala, is the Gränby Linnéminne (Gränby Linnaeus Memorial) on Sara Christina’s farmstead. So, I thought I’d complete my Linnaean circuit on what looked to be a beautiful Sunday morning.

A map of the places of interest in Uppsala linked to Carl von Linné
Map of the places of interest in Uppsala linked to Carl von Linné. Number 4 at the top center points toward the Gränby Linnéminne.

The first challenge was finding it. A search on Google Maps failed to turn it up, with or without using the diacritics on the “a” and the “e” of Gränby and Linnéminne. The less-than-helpful legend to the above map of places of interest on linneuppsala.se noted only that it is located “just east of Gränby center.” A little further web searching suggested that it was on or near the Uppsala 4H farm in Gränby, which was findable on Google Maps just east of Gränby center.

The archived website also informed me that the farm had been set aside in 2003 as a new Linnaeus monument in Uppsala that was meant to be a tribute to the women around Linnaeus and all women who engaged in scientific studies before they were officially allowed to do so. The farm-cum-monument was fenced in 2006 and a trail with interpretive signage and suitable for children of all ages had been set up in 2007. This trail also was said to include an art monument by Anette Wixner and Bodil Gellermark, and that a set of five salamander ponds had been installed on the site in 2008 to provide habitat for the greater water salamander (Större vattensalamander; Triturus cristatus). All of this struck me as being at least as interesting as the Herbationes Upsalienses, and now that the 4H farm had given me a plausible destination, I set out to find it.

After a detour around a construction site and walking only a little further than I thought necessary, I was pleased to find the sign for the Gränby Linnéminne. I immediately photographed it and posted it to Google Maps, so others might find it in the future.

Unfortunately, the text on the sign was somewhat worse for 17 years of wear-and-tear, but fortunately, the aforementioned archived website had the full text.

The last two paragraphs of text on the sign (translation by Google from the Gränby Linnéminne website) read:

The place [Gränby Linnéminne] is also an important part of Uppsala’s women’s history. It is a memorial to a woman’s fate in 18th-century learned Uppsala. Sara Stina von Linné was the daughter of an 18th century professor who became the greatest botanist of all time, but she never got the chance to study the subject herself. The plants in her garden, however, indicate that she had a distinct interest in plant cultivation.
Gränby Linnéminne is part of the project “Linnés Historiska Landskap”, which wants to preserve and draw attention to the traces of Linnaeus in the Uppsala areaThe Gränby Linnéminne project is run by a working group consisting of botanists and women historians from Uppsala University, Uppsala Municipality, the 4H farm at Gränby and individual artists and others.

Ever hopeful, I continued on, searching for interpretive signs, the monument, and the salamander ponds.

Trail markes on the Herbationes
Small signs adorned with the bust of Linnaeus keep one on track on the Herbationes Upsalienses.

This proved somewhat challenging. Unlike the well-groomed, well-maintained, and most importantly, well-signed Herbationes, there was no information kiosk, no glossy bilingual maps, and no trail markers on the Sara Stina Stig (trail).

I did manage to find seven signs—or what’s left of them. It took me two circuits on the trail and three detours to explore possible alternative routes.

Unfortunately, the signs were mostly uninformative. Not because they were in Swedish (bravo for Google Translate), but because all but two of them were either unreadable or completely missing.

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I also found two of the salamander ponds (each with clear interpretive signs), but I never did come across the art monument.

At a time when the accomplishments of previously lauded scientists, including Linnaeus, are being reconsidered in light of their reconstructed and reanalyzed beliefs about race, their names erased and statues removed from cultural events, gardens, and buildings, we should also take care not to cancel individuals simply through neglect. Sara Christina von Linné may not have led students through the woods and fields in search of plants and insects, published a shelf full of books, revolutionized taxonomy, and been enobled by King Adolf Frederick of Sweden, but she and the women around Linnaeus, and those who contributed in countless ways to the development of modern science in Sweden and beyond, should be respected and remembered.

Now, about those signs…

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