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‘The vagaries of a Rafinesque’: imagining and classifying American nature

By Jim Endersby


Some early nineteenth-century American naturalists condemned their contemporary, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840), as 'eccentric', or worse. Both during his life and long after his death, his botanical work in particular was criticised, even ridiculed. However, in recent years, attempts have been made to restore his reputation and the term 'genius' has even been used to describe him. This paper examines this continuing fascination with this strange, disturbing figure and argues that in the competing interpretations of his life and work, Rafinesque has generally been used to typify bad classification; he is perhaps better understood in a broader, literary context as embodying a particular kind of American national identity

Topics: E
Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2009
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