Pollen, women, war and other things: reflections on the history of palynology

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The development of palynology since its recognised launch in 1916 by Lennart von Post is examined in terms of its historiography, the biographies of pollen analysts and the role of those who have influenced the discipline. Emphasis is placed upon research beginnings in Scandinavia (especially Sweden), Great Britain and Ireland. Within an analytical narrative which includes archival and published sources, special consideration is given to a ‘proclamation’ on methodology which appeared in 1909, on a supposed geology/botany dichotomy stemming from von Post’s background, on the forgotten early practitioners in Britain and Ireland and their connections, on the role of women up to the end of the Second World War and on issues related to wartime hostilities. Present day palynology can trace a continuity from von Post and palynologists are part of an extended disciplinary genealogy. Ignorance of these can be seen as a loss of heritage and to represent an intellectual impoverishment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-335
Number of pages17
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Issue number2
Early online date8 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

I am grateful to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien; KVA), Stockholm, for hosting the conference at which the themes in this paper were presented. For archival material, I appreciate access to (and the assistance of): Gunnar Erdtman papers, Center for History of Science, KVA (Maria Asp); Thomas Woodhead papers, Kirklees Museums and Galleries (Tolson Memorial Museum, Huddersfield; Chris Yates); Harold Hyde papers, Botany Section Correspondence, Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales (Heather Pardoe); Kathleen Blackburn papers, Natural History Society of Northumbria Archive, Great North Museum (Hancock), Newcastle upon Tyne (Alan Hart); material concerning Florence Campbell James, Aberystwyth University (Julie Archer). Richard Bradshaw, Paul Buckland, Andrew Cameron, Peter Coxon, Egill Erlendsson, Michael Grant, Alan Hart, Angus Lunn, Limi Mao, Heather Pardoe, Ed Schofield and Richard West are thanked for advice and assistance. I appreciate the constructive comments on a draft of this paper by John Birks. Jenny Johnston assisted with artwork.


  • Lennart von Post
  • Gustaf Lagerheim
  • Gunnar Erdtman
  • Palyngology
  • Historiography
  • Pioneers
  • Biographies


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