Our second session focused in on our first specific object type ‘Botany,’ carrying on some of the key themes from the first session. Again questions of museology and display were discussed, but we also once-more considered ‘wounded objects’ and objects as ‘assemblages.’ These elements particularly came out in a stimulating question session.
Dr Charlie Jarvis (Historical Researcher, Botany Department, Natural History Museum) opened the session for us by looking at Herbarium Collections. He showed us the different ways in which specimens were preserved, arranged, recorded and stored within Herbaria, focusing especially on the wonderful Sloane herbarium at the Natural History Museum. He raised questions of arrangement and representation, highlighting the multiple ways in which specimens were displayed on the page, and the different constraints posed by mounting them within loose or bound collections. He considered how Linnaean ideas of classification changed such practices, and how looking at Herbaria today gives us not just useful scientific data but ‘a picture of how 17th and 18th-century botanists kept their plants.’
Kim Sloan (Curator of British Drawings and Watercolours before 1800 and Francis Finlay Curator of the Enlightenment Gallery, British Museum) followed this with a discussion of ‘The Lives of Mrs Delany’s Paper Plants’ looking not only at how this collection of cut-paper botanical pictures relates to a Herbarium volume, but also at how we should look at the changing ‘lives’ of such objects. She started with a discussion of the Portland Vase and how interpretations of this as an object changed during and since the eighteenth century, and from this looked at the changing ‘life’ of Mrs Delany’s Flora Delanica in the British Museum. She considered how these were not just accurate botanical images, but actors in multiple social and museological narratives.
What emerged in the discussion session was the question of whether we should consider either collection as simple ‘botanical’ objects at all, or rather as complex assemblages of material determined by natural philosophical, social, aesthetic and gendered, not to mention practical, considerations. To make up your own mind, listen to the complete recording here: http://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1183734