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Spider Threads And A Tangled Web Of Misunderstanding, 1668–1671

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Chapter Summary

Martin Lister's last year at St John's College, Cambridge was an eventful one. His royal dispensation permitted him to spend one more year in his college fellowship, and he made the most of it as he prepared to embark upon his medical practice. Although throughout his life, he would argue with other natural philosophers about a variety of matters-plant circulation, the identification of minerals in spa waters, and the origin of fossils or formed stones-this chapter specifically examines his disputed claim that he had made the first discovery of ballooning spiders. Analyzing this dispute allows us to understand scientific practice and social norms of discourse within the Royal Society, as well as the interdisciplinarity of investigations into natural history in the early modern era. The matter proved to be a pyrrhic victory for Lister, resulting in a deep personal rift with his beloved mentor John Ray.

Keywords: ballooning spiders; John Ray; Martin Lister; Royal Society



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