The Cross-Cultural Histories of Tropical Botany in Latin America project enables new questions to be asked of an extraordinary set of collections accumulated through Kew’s long history of direct and indirect involvement in botanical research and exploration in Latin America.
These collections were acquired since 1841, under the Directors William Hooker and his son, Joseph Hooker, when scientific research expanded and Kew became essential to the developing Empire. Of particular significance in this respect are the collections amassed by William Burchell, Richard Spruce, Robert Shomburgk, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Everard Ferdinand Im Thurn during the nineteenth century. These tropical South American collections constitute an unparalleled resource that is not replicated in any other institution, Kew is uniquely placed to make important research contributions in this area. While the living collections are the foundation of Kew’s capacity to attract and inform the visiting public, the documentary and visual reference collections yield a treasure trove of insights into cross-cultural histories of natural history. The proposed doctoral project will provide an exciting opportunity for intellectually insightful research, building links between the humanities and the scientific work of Kew.
The primary source for the research is the South American collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew itself. Given the sheer range of these collections, which consist of herbarium specimens, artefacts, books, journals, pamphlets, letters, unpublished manuscripts, plant portraits, photographs and prints, and Kew’s strategy to encourage access by others, so as to maximise their use and increase their scientific, utilitarian and conservation value by providing total access to behind-the-scenes collections, this offers an excellent focus. Where necessary, materials will be located in other collections, such as those held by the Natural History Museum, the Linnean Society, the Royal Horticultural Society and the Royal Geographical Society, for example.
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