Networks, maps and silences in the Sloane Herbarium, 1680-1753

ID: 613 / 318

Category: Abstract

Track: Pending

Proposed Symposium Title: Networks, maps and silences in the Sloane Herbarium, 1680-1753


Brad Scott

Affiliations: Natural History Museum, London, and Queen Mary University of London


Understanding the history of early natural history collections is an essential prerequisite for almost any other research on them, though their histories can be challenging to reconstruct. Recent work in the history of science, history of knowledge, collection histories, and digital humanities offers productive methods for conceptualising and reinterpreting these fragile objects.

The herbarium of Hans Sloane (1660-1753) comprises 265 volumes and about 125,000 specimens. As a collection it has been periodically studied especially since the 1880s, but it is difficult to access and to comprehend its scale, complexity, and limitations. My work combines archive-based research with a folio-by-folio review of all the volumes, and the creation and analysis of an enriched XML version of James Dandy’s catalogue, The Sloane Herbarium (1958). Together, these approaches offer opportunities for researching plant knowledges and histories at scale, and reveal some of the gaps and silences in the way the collection has been mediated to us.

Incorporating mapping and network analysis, my work explores the social and cultural relations of plant collecting as centred in Britain and Ireland, the geographical origin of specimens, and how that changed over time. In so doing, it examines the implications for understanding and constructing provenance for material from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and discusses the methodological insights arising from such approaches.

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: Colonialism; collection histories; provenance