The project

An interdisciplinary research on historical herbaria

The project: “Botanical legacies from the Enlightenment: unexplored collections and texts at the crossroads between the humanities and the sciences” (SNF project nr. 186227) focuses on the botanical collections of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Jean-Baptiste-Christian Fusée-Aublet (1723-1778), Jean-Frédéric Chaillet (1747-1839), and several of their contemporaries. The project views 18th century botany as a body of knowledge and of practices in which a diverse range of actors were involved. The research team is examining the historical and scientific value of ancient herbaria, and the possibilities of providing these complex collections online.

The research is centred on botanists of diverse backgrounds and is divided in three subprojects.

The first focuses on Rousseau’s herbaria and the specimens that the philosopher collected or obtained from other botanists, including Fusée-Aublet. By combining botany, history, and information technology, the aim is to reconstruct these collections, currently dispersed, in the form of a database and a virtual herbarium that will be available online.

Based on Fusée-Aublet, the second subproject focuses on botanists travelling to the Americas. In terms of history, it explores the construction of a body of knowledge about the West Indies, and questions the agenda of colonial botany managed from Paris. In terms of science, the project aims to identify which of the specimens among Aublet’s collections were used to describe species and genera new to science in his book Histoire des plantes de la Guiane françoise (1775).

Finally, the third sub-project investigates botanical sciences at a regional scale. It focuses on naturalists from Neuchâtel who first introduced Rousseau to botany. These include Jean-Antoine d’Ivernois (1703-1765) and Abraham Gagnebin (1707-1800), and particularly Chaillet, who played an important role in the study of flora in Switzerland at the turn of the 19th century.

This interdisciplinary and collaborative project combines the skills of botanists, science historians, and specialists of historical scientific literature. The project is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (“Sinergia” programme) and was launched at the University of Neuchâtel in 2020. It forms the core of a reflection on the alliance between science and literature in the 18th century. Further details about the different research projects, as well as publications and updates, and information about the research team are provided on this site.

Research projects

The project follows three axes and is centred around different botanists active in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Rousseau's herbaria

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) studied botany intensively during the last fifteen years of his life, leaving behind him rich manuscripts and hundreds of plant specimens. One part of this project is dedicated to the study of these manuscripts and to the creation of a virtual herbarium, which will bring together all these collections online.

and the scientific journey

Jean-Baptiste-Christian Fusée-Aublet (1723-1778) travelled to and lived in Île de France (Mauritius) and French Guiana. He is considered an authority in tropical botany. One focus of this project is the inventory of his herbarium, the reconstruction of his networks, and the study of his methods.

Chaillet and the Neuchâtel flora

In the Principality of Neuchâtel, botany was established by scientists such as Laurent Garcin (c. 1683-1751), Jean-Antoine d’Ivernois (1703-1765), and Abraham Gagnebin (1707-1800). In continuation, Captain Jean-Frédéric Chaillet (1747-1839) completed the inventory of the local flora and created a large herbarium. One focus of the project concerns their work and the study of botany on a regional scale.


You will find here the scientific events associated with the project, and the list of publications by its collaborators. A biannual newsletter provides news and an overview of ongoing research.



Jason Grant
Applicant, principal investigator, botany (2020-2024)

Nathalie Vuillemin
Applicant, co-investigator, literature (2020-2024)


Université de Neuchâtel
Institut de biologie
Projet Botanical Legacies
Rue Émile-Argand 11
CH-2000 Neuchâtel

Transversal positions

Jämes Ménétrey
Scientific collaborator, computer science (2020-2021)

Christian Morel
Scientific collaborator, computer science (2022-2024)

Luca Gillioz
Student-assistent, literature (2022-2023)

Rousseau's herbaria

Pierre-Emmanuel DuPasquier
Coordinator, scientific collaborator, botany (2020-2023)

Timothée Léchot
Coordinator, scientific collaborator, literature (2020-2024)

Christof Beutler
Trainee, computer science (2021)

Dorothée Rusque
Scientific collaborator, history (2020-2023)

Jérémy Tritz
Scientific collaborator, botany (2020-2022)

Alexandra Cook
Scientific partner, history of botany (2020-2024)

Takuya Kobayashi
Scientific partner, history of botany (2020-2024)

Fusée-Aublet and the scientific journey

Perrine Besson
PhD student, literature (2020-2023)

Guilhem Mansion
Collaborateur scientifique, botanique (2020-2024)

Thibaud Martinetti
Postdoctoral fellow, literature (2020-2024)

Piero Delprete
Scientific collaborator, botany (2020-2024)

Chaillet and the Neuchâtel flora

Rossella Baldi
Scientific collaborator, history (2020-2023)

Edouard Di Maio
Scientific collaborator, botany (2020-2024)

Philippe Druart
Scientific collaborator, botany (2020-2022)

Stéphanie Morelon
PhD student, botany (2020-2024)

Mathias Vust
Scientific collaborator, botany (2020-2024)

Frédéric Beuchat
Student, botany (2022-2023)

Lucie Gaspari
Student, botany (2022-2023)

Eva Riat
Student, botany (2021-2022)


Uses, practices and functions of historical herbaria

Monte Verità conference centre, Ascona, 5-9 November 2023.

In the 18th century, as botany developed and became more institutionalised, the functions of the herbarium diversified. As an instrument for the acquisition, recording, exchange, and dissemination of knowledge about the plant kingdom, the herbarium deserves to be considered from a scientific as well as an artistic, economic, and social perspective. Indeed, the herbarium not only documents the processes of collection, description, classification, and nomenclature of specimens, but also, in relation to other types of sources, the networks of botanical exchanges, the role of some intermediaries in the construction of knowledge and the scientific ambitions of their owners. Surrounded by enigmas and often fragmentary, the historical collections that have survived benefit from being studied in an interdisciplinary and dialogical perspective.

The colloquium “Uses, practices and functions of historical herbaria” aims to stimulate this dialogue. It is part of the research project “Botanical legacies from the Enlightenment: unexplored collections and texts at the crossroads between the humanities and the sciences” that a team of botanists, historians of science, historians of literature and computer scientists is conducting at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland) around Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Jean-Baptiste-Christophe Fusée-Aublet (1723-1778) and Jean-Frédéric Chaillet (1747-1839). These three botanists were active in the field of natural history at different levels. Their botanical activities, their contrasting backgrounds, and the collections they built up provide rich material for rethinking the relationship between regional and international botanical practices, the approach of the amateur and that of the professional botanist, and the institutional and private issues involved in scientific activity.

One day will be devoted to each of the three botanists. The focus will be on the content and history of the plant collections, but also on their current conditions of conservation and study, and in particular on digital publication devices. Combining panel lectures and round tables, the colloquium will also be open to papers with a broader scientific, epistemological, or methodological scope on historical herbaria and their study. In addition, it will consider the contemporary uses of such sources in different fields, such as taxonomy, floristics and biodiversity.

Languages of the conference: French and English.


Download the conference programme, the poster and the abstract book.