Cloud and Field

If ours is the Information Age, it is not the first. A “quantifying spirit” swept the educated classes of 18th century Europe, too, as they confronted the hyperabundance of data in an increasingly globalized world. 1 Explorers were returning from distant lands with new bytes of information — logs, maps, specimens — while, back home, Europeans turned natural history into a leisure pursuit. 2 Hobbyists combed the fields for flowers to press and butterflies to pin. Scientists and philosophers sought rational modes of description, classification, and analysis — in other words, systematicity.

That age belonged to Carl Linnaeus, whose methods we still use to name new species. (Swedish botanist, zoologist, physician: what box should we put him in?) Linnaean classification proved a “godsend to naturalists at sea in the quantity of their own discoveries,” 3 but that was just the start; its “rationality and practicality gave it entrée everywhere.” 4 Researchers applied its systematic logic to the study of everything from chemicals and diseases to machines and algebraic forms.

The craze reached its height, as ours does, with a most protean subject: clouds

Shannon Mattern, “Cloud and Field,” Places Journal, August 2016. Accessed 05 Sep 2016. <>