ID: 613 / 89

Category: Symposia

Track: Pending


Abstract: Collecting specimens has been a fundamental aspect of the study of plants for hundreds of years, resulting in herbarium collections, large and small, that are today distributed across the globe. However, the context, rationale and practice of assembling, managing and using such collections and their associated materials has changed considerably since the earliest examples were amassed in the sixteenth century. While many older collections may bear a superficial resemblance to modern herbaria, shifts in collecting practice can obscure the differences in how collections were conceptualised and constructed. Understanding and accessing some forms of information within older herbaria and their associated manuscripts can be especially challenging. This symposium encourages new approaches to studying and contextualising botanical collections that were compiled before 1800. Papers will question and reinterpret herbarium histories, and explore the implications such enquiry has for the management and use of collections in the future. Topics and conceptual frameworks could include the pre-Linnaean development of taxonomy & nomenclature, the history of plant/commodities trade, colonial extraction and bioprospecting, as well as considering collecting as situated knowledge. Explorations of the gaps and silences in collections are also encouraged, as would contributions that address the circulation of indigenous knowledge, the dynamism and mobility in collections, duplicates and discarded specimens, and those collections that have been lost, destroyed or disposed of. Novel approaches to unravelling information embedded within pre-Linnaean nomenclatural and taxonomic frameworks will also be welcomed. Taken together, the papers in the symposium will reveal complex and nuanced histories that challenge our understanding of provenance, cataloguing, and the creation of knowledge about the natural world. Of particular interest to historians of botany, environmental historians, and collection managers, the symposium will also be of interest to researchers exploring and defining the concept of the ‘Extended Specimen’ (plant specimen, published literature and unpublished manuscripts).

Speaker 1:

Speaker 2: Brad Scott – Gaps and silences in the Sloane Herbarium 1680-1753. Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2BD, United Kingdom (

Speaker 3: Anastasia Stefanaki - Tracing the introduction history of Tulipa sylvestris in northern Europe in the 16th century. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, P.O. Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands (

Topics (Up to three): Botanical History

Topic 2: Ethnobotany

Topic 3: Systematics

Justification: Outside of taxonomy, early botanical collections remain poorly utilised. Yet, they are valuable tools for exploring the development of botanical science, the emergence of modern horticulture, the history of art and the development of European empires and the peoples they colonised. Such collections provide evidence of indigenous plant knowledge and use. These collections offer the potential to be a respectful, collaborative shared space devoted to developing understanding of the natural world, that is not solely shaped western science. Realising this potential requires the synthesis of botanical science, novel approaches to information management and a range of humanities disciplines.