International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

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125 Making and mobilising collections
Chair(s) Felix Driver (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Friday 10 July 2015, Timeslot 1 (09:15 - 11:00)
Room Royal School of Mines Lecture Theatre 1.31
Session abstract This session is concerned with the biography of collections: the historical geography of moments of collection in situ, the translation of objects into museum collections elsewhere and the uses to which these collections may subsequently be put. The session includes papers on current research on particular 'moments' within these biographies, including work on the collecting methods of figures such as Hans Sloane and Alfred Russel Wallace, on controversies over the authenticity of antiquities, on the evolution of object display styles in the museum context and on the contemporary re-engagement with major botanical, ethnographic and historical collections.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details:
Exchanging and transporting natural knowledge for Sloane’s "Vegetable Substances"
Victoria Pickering (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), a prominent physician, naturalist and President of the Royal Society, collected a vast amount of material from around the world between the 1680s and 1740s. This included his collection of ‘Vegetable Substances’ consisting of 12,523 boxes containing largely botanical material and things of a more curious nature. Over 8000 boxes survive today (housed in the Natural History Museum, London), and the corresponding hand-written catalogue lists these items and a wealth of information about them. It indicates that 301 people contributed to this collection from across the globe including the Americas, China, the Philippines and Europe. My research considers the role of Sloane’s ‘Vegetable Substances’ in the production and exchange of natural knowledge during the eighteenth century. As historical geographers and historians of science and medicine continue to investigate networks of knowledge communication, the diversity of people and places represented in this collection places it in a variety of eighteenth century settings, both domestic and international (e.g. eighteenth-century gardens and medicine). Using examples of these contexts, I will explore how particular individuals with different motivations transported botanical material from a range of places and what this says about the natural knowledge being preserved in the ‘Vegetable Substances’.
125,660 Specimens of Natural History: Re-Imagining Mobility and Transformation Through A.R. Wallace’s Malay Expedition
Anna-Sophie Springer (Rutgers University, USA / K. Verlag, Germany)
Etienne Turpin (University of Wollongong, Australia / anexact office, Jakarta)
In the history of natural history the importance of the Indonesian archipelago as a region for revolutionary scientific discoveries—especially regarding the theory of evolution, studies of biogeography, and the Homo erectus—cannot be underestimated. Yet, in the work of traditional science exhibition curatorship this legacy is seldom reflected in its predominantly unidirectional form of colonial knowledge production stocking museums and academies in Europe. By revisiting Alfred Russel Wallace’s (1823–1913) eight-year collecting expedition through the Malay archipelago, our paper for the International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015 considers the mobility of colonial collections and the environmental transformations they produced against the background of both postcolonial museology and recent “Anthropocene” scholarship. Presenting material which currently forms the conceptual apparatus of a forthcoming art/science exhibition premiering at the contemporary arts center Komunitas Salihara, Jakarta in August 2015, the paper discusses how specimen collections and historical archives can be reassessed through transcultural collaboration among international artists, scientists, and curators in order to produce relevant work about the history of “colonial environmentalism,” the legacy of such colonial practices in the present, and the potential for appropriating these histories for contemporary conservation efforts specifically concerned with the future of Malay rainforest ecologies.
Fuegian Face-paints and Papuan Wood-carvings: Moments of collecting by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace
Janet Owen (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
In 1858, a paper was presented on behalf of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace at the Linnean Society that outlined their ideas on the theory of natural selection. Underpinning their vision for natural selection was the detailed acquisition and study of vast collections of specimens. These collections were an important part of a rich data pool, providing sparks of inspiration and concrete evidence.

A small collection of ethnographic artefacts that now reside at the British Museum in London play a bit part in this story. Two test-tubes containing face-paint pigment from Tierra del Fuego were acquired by Darwin during his voyage on HMS Beagle and the Papuan wood-carvings were collected by Wallace twenty years later during an excursion to Dorey.

This paper will explore these independent moments of collecting as individual geographic encounters with landscape, culture and community, and in terms of their meanings within the wider context of ‘collecting natural selection’. It will present work in progress on a pilot project funded by a British Academy/ Leverhulme Small Research Grant, entitled ‘Collecting Natural Selection’, which is examining whether and how the activities of collecting and using collections influenced development of the theories of natural selection presented in 1858.
Mapping object diasporas: Exploring the "authenticity" of the Cypriot antiquities in the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1860-1900
Polina Nikolaou (University of Exeter, UK)
In 1883 a lawsuit was filed against Luigi P. Di Cesnola - the acting Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York - accusing him of tampering with the museum’s nucleus collection of Cypriot antiquities. Although Cesnola was acquitted of the charges by the New York District Court, the persisting doubt over the authenticity of the collection led to the dispersal of the objects. Cypriot antiquities were, also, ‘doctored’ by the British Museum curators prior to their display in this period; fragments were put together and repairs were coated. However, the credibility of the British Museum’s collection of Cypriot antiquities was never questioned by the contemporary archaeologists. This paper seeks to explore the notion of “authentic” in modern archaeology by tracing back the objects’ life story, from their excavation in Cyprus to their display in New York City and London. It demonstrates that authenticity and credibility in nineteenth-century archaeology were constructed by the relationship between objects, people and place in relation with greater theoretical rhetoric. In doing so, this paper reflects on museum politics and poetics as they were shaped by the influence of the professionalization of archaeology during the late nineteenth century.