Cinchona bark and its derived quinine alkaloids were the most effective treatment for malaria from the 17th century to the 1940s. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, holds exceptionally rich collections of bark specimens, archives and printed matter relating to the development of cinchona cultivation and use in the period 1820-1930.
The aim of this web site is to integrate these disparate information sources (and relevant material elsewhere in London), so that historians of medicine will have easy and comprehensive access to all these materials. The focus of the project is on the cross-referencing of specimens (themselves often bearing copious documentation), and written materials so that they can be studied together rather than in isolation.
The outcomes of the project (2006-7) have been:
- Recataloguing of 900 cinchona bark specimens, with correction and standardisation of many personal and place names. This element of the project took longer than originally planned because of the need to:
- Cataloguing and rehousing of 100+ specimens that shared storage boxes with other specimens, but were unrelated.
- Correlation of Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain specimens with the original RPSGB catalogue cards. These were not used when the original Kew database of specimens was made in the 1080s, and clarified many details.
- Cataloguing of specimens by the botanical name originally applied, rather than by the current day accepted names. The original names are important for understanding the history of cinchona.
- Shelving of the specimens by region and collector, so that related material can be studied together.
- Copying relevant publications scattered across Kew’s library holdings, including the many articles in the Pharmaceutical Journal 1850-1900.
- Copying relevant archival material at Kew and the London Metropolitan Archives, and box-level cataloguing of the John Eliot Howard archives held at Kew.
- Cross-referencing of bark specimens to publications and archive sources. This component, the most complex part of the project, continues.
The Research Resources in Medical History programme of the Wellcome Trust.
Mark Nesbitt (Collections Manager, Economic Botany Collection); Jill Turner (Museum Entry Books); Judith Seidel (volunteer, cataloguing); Maryam Hanafiah (volunteer, photography); Geoff Butcher (volunteer, library research).