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Scientific Relations between Sweden, Russia and Japan in the 1790s: Two Letters from Eric Laxman
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Literature.
2018 (English)In: Svenska Linnésällskapets årsskrift, ISSN 0375-2038, p. 99-138Article in journal (Other academic) Published
Abstract [en]

Eric Laxman (1737–96), a Finnish–Swedish–Russian naturalist in Russian service, organized an expedition to the island of Hokkaido in north Japan under his son Adam Laxman’s command in 1792–93. Sixteen years earlier, the Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828) had visited Nagasaki and Edo (now Tokyo) as a surgeon in Dutch service. Japan at the time was a secluded empire. The present article analyses two manuscript letters from Eric Laxman to Johan Erik Norberg (1749–1818), a Swedish engineer in Russia, who forwarded them to Thunberg, by then professor of medicine and botany in Uppsala (Sweden). In the first letter, from December 1793, Laxman reported about his son’s expedition to Japan. When he wrote his second letter in August 1795, he was preparing a new expedition. Our investigation gives evidence of a Russian–Swedish network, centred around J. E. Norberg, which made it possible for information and objects to travel between the Swedish realm (Uppsala and Stockholm), the Russian Empire (St Petersburg, Siberia) and the Japanese Empire (Matsumae in Hokkaido, Edo). Further, the article explores the question of the destination of Laxman’s planned expedition in 1795: archival sources in Sweden and Finland show that a number of scientific institutions in the Swedish realm mobilized in support of a Laxman expedition to Central Asia. Plans for a new Russian expedition to Japan, besides, were taking form at the end of 1795, but Laxman suddenly died in January 1796. Finally, the article gives some brief examples of the spread of information about Japan to the outside world in the 1790s; Russia was beginning to play a role as a source of news from Japan, though sometimes distorted. Laxman’s two letters to Norberg in Uppsala universitetsbibliotek are appended to the article, in the original Swedish and in English translation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala, 2018. p. 99-138
Keywords [en]
scientific relations, 1790s, Laxman, Hokkaido, Japan, Russia
National Category
History and Archaeology
Research subject
History of Sciences and Ideas; History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-371797OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-371797DiVA, id: diva2:1274490
Available from: 2018-12-31 Created: 2018-12-31 Last updated: 2019-05-09Bibliographically approved

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Skuncke, Marie-Christine

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