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Global Plants and Digital Letters: Epistemological Implications of Digitising the Directors’ Correspondence at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6829-9326
2015 (English)In: Environmental humanities, ISSN 2201-1919, E-ISSN 2201-1919, Vol. 6, 73-102 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Digitisation is presenting new possibilities and challenges for the use of collections in both the humanities and the sciences. However, digitisation is also another layer in a longer process of selections shaping the collection—something which must be analysed on a case-by-case basis. This paper considers the epistemological implications of the digitisation of the Directors’ Correspondence (DC) collection (1841-1928) at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, made available through the Global Plants database. In order to avoid a polarised analysis of the end-products of archive and database, the selection process shaping this collection is traced from the writing of the letters and their reception into the DC at RBG, Kew, to the digitisation with corresponding metadata and the end-user searching the database. Particular attention is given the digitisation process and the knowledge produced by the project digitisers, as they combine close reading and database searches in writing the summaries of the letters for the metadata. This analysis of the DC engages with wider discussions about digitisation by emphasising the importance of taking a longer historical perspective, with particular attention to moments of selection, and highlighting the knowledge generated by those involved in the digitisation process. By doing so, the result is not a clear trajectory but a combination of losses and gains, disconnections and reconnections. Care is therefore needed to avoid replicating the invisible losses of extractive approaches to knowledge production, particularly in the context of collection-based biodiversity conservation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 6, 73-102 p.
National Category
History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-171413OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-171413DiVA: diva2:843696
Note

QC 20150805

Available from: 2015-07-30 Created: 2015-07-30 Last updated: 2017-12-04Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. A Utopian Quest for Universal Knowledge: Diachronic Histories of Botanical Collections between the Sixteenth Century and the Present
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A Utopian Quest for Universal Knowledge: Diachronic Histories of Botanical Collections between the Sixteenth Century and the Present
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis explores the history of botany as a global collection-based science by tracing parallels between utopian traditions and botanical collecting, from their sixteenth-century beginnings to the present. A range of botanical collections, such as gardens, herbaria and classification systems, have played a central role in the struggle to discover a global or universal scientific order for the chaotic, diverse and locally shaped kingdom of plants. These collections and utopia intersect historically, and are characterised by the same epistemology of collecting: the creation of order through confined collecting spaces or “no-place.” They are manipulations of space and time. Between chaos and order, both seek to make a whole from – often unruly – parts.

 

The long history of botanical collecting is characterised by a degree of continuity of practice that is unusual in the sciences.  For instance, the basic technology of the herbarium – preserving plants by mounting and labelling dried specimens on paper – has been in use for almost five centuries, from sixteenth-century Italy to ongoing digitisation projects. The format of the compilation thesis is well-suited to handling the historiographical challenge of tracing continuity and discontinuity with such a long chronological scope.

 

The thesis is structured as a walled quadripartite garden, with the Kappa enclosing four research papers and an epilogue. The papers take a diachronic approach to explore different perspectives on botanical collections: botanical collecting in seventeenth-century Oxford, pressed plants in books that are not formally collections; and the digitisation of botanical collections. These accounts are all shaped by the world of books, text and publication, historically a male-dominated sphere. In order to acknowledge marginalisation of other groups and other ways of knowing plants, the epilogue is an explanation of an embroidered patchwork of plant-dyed fabric, which forms the cover of the thesis.

Abstract [sv]

Denna avhandling behandlar historien om botanik som en global samlingsbaserad vetenskap genom att följa paralleller mellan utopiska traditioner och botaniskt samlande från dess början på femtonhundratalet till idag. Olika sorters botaniska samlingar, till exempel trädgårdar, herbarier och klassifikationssystem, har historiskt spelat en central roll i sökandet efter en global eller universell vetenskaplig ordning i växtrikets lokalt rotade och till synes kaotiska mångfald. Det finns historiska kopplingar mellan dessa botaniska samlingar och utopi, som båda även präglas av vad man kan kalla samlandets epistemologi: skapandet av ordning genom avgränsade samlingsutrymmen eller ”icke-platser”. De är manipulationer av tid och rum.

 

Det botaniska samlandets långa historia utmärks av en praktisk kontinuitet som är ovanlig inom naturvetenskapen. Herbariets grundläggande teknik att bevara växter genom att pressa, identifiera och montera dem på pappersark har varit i bruk i nästan fem sekel. Avhandlingen utnyttjar sammanläggningsformatet för att hantera den historiografiska utmaning det innebär att studera en så lång tidsperiod, genom att de ingående artiklarna behandlar skilda tidsepoker och disciplinära perspektiv samtidigt som de alla delar avhandlingens centrala tematik: ordnande genom avgränsade samlingsutrymmen.

 

 

Avhandlingens struktur är baserad på den muromgärdade fyrdelade trädgården, med kappan som inneslutande fyra artiklar och en epilog. Artiklarna är diakrona analyser av botaniska samlingar: om samlande i Oxford på sextonhundratalet, om pressade växter i böcker som inte formellt utgör del av samlingar, och om digitaliseringen av botaniska samlingar. Dessa sammanhang är alla formade i en värld av böcker, text och publicering – en värld som historiskt har dominerats av män. Epilogen belyser den marginalisering av andra grupper och deras kunskaper om växter som detta har inneburit, genom att förklara avhandlingens omslag, ett lapptäcksbroderi av växtfärgade tyger.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2017. 332 p.
Series
TRITA-HOT, ISSN 0349-2842 ; 2074
Keyword
history of botany, utopia, Oxford University Botanic Garden, pressed plants in books, botanical collection, classification, herbarium, Global Plants, digitisation, database, conservation, natural dyeing, botanikhistoria, utopi, Oxford University Botanic Garden, pressade växter i böcker, botaniska samlingar, klassifikation, herbarium, Global Plants, digitalisering, databas, växtfärgning
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-217554 (URN)978-91-7729-587-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-12-08, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockhom, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Projects
Saving Nature: Conservation Technologies from the Biblical Ark to the Digital Archive
Note

QC 20171115

Available from: 2017-11-15 Created: 2017-11-15 Last updated: 2017-11-15Bibliographically approved

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