Naturalizing the Empire: Women Plant Collectors and the Making of British Botany c. 1785-1810

Department: History

Date and Time: December 7, 2017 | 12:00 PM-1:30 PM

Event Location: HIB 137

Event Details

Nicole LaBouff is an alumna of the UCI History Graduate Program & now serves as the Assistant Curator of Textiles at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

This talk is free and open to the public, lunch will be served.

Talk Description
When Carl Linnaeus declared “[plant] names are not properties of the memory, like those of the ancients, but in the work of judgement and written on the plants themselves,” he placed new importance on the parts of fructification to reveal a plant’s order. This paper considers three women plant collectors/gardeners who worked in close collaboration with botanist James Edward Smith, founding member and president of the Linnean Society. The collectors displayed exceptional skill in getting fragile imports from distant countries to flourish and bloom. In doing so, they transformed the nature of botanical fieldwork by making the world’s plants accessible to Smith and other British naturalists within private gardens. This study shows women’s collecting and horticultural activities to have been experimental and scientifically-oriented, not “fashionable,” leisurely pastimes. It also extracts female collector-cultivators from politely social networks of plant “gift exchange” and recasts them as “go betweens” who played key roles in systems of global exchange and scientific inquiry orchestrated by Smith and Royal Society President, Sir Joseph Banks.