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Archival History Crossing the Pond: SI Fellow Caroline Cornish Researches SI’s Relationship with the Royal Botanic Gardens

Posted on Mar 8, 2016 by in The OFI Blog |




Dr. Caroline Cornish is a fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives, investigating a series of scientific exchanges between between SI and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England from 1880 to 1900. The relationship began in when Joseph Henry, visited Kew and informed Joseph Hooker, the director at the time, that he would be “happy to contribute to the riches of the gardens in any way through the influence of the Smithsonian Institution.” Over the following 100 years, some 1,150 objects were sent to the Museum of Economic Botany from the Smithsonian collections, both from curators at the National Museum and at the US Department of Agriculture. During the same time period, 800 plus objects were sent in exchange from Kew to Washington.  The objects included plant products, such as fibres and dyes, as well as objects made from plant materials, ranging from bows and arrows to sandals!

Along with her advisor, Dr. Pamela Henson, Caroline’s research approach  is object-based; by following the journeys made by various objects she traces networks of knowledge production and the broader contexts in which exchanges of specimens, publications and correspondence were taking place.

A historian of science and museums and an Honorary Research Associate at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England and Royal Holloway, University of London, England, Caroline is in residence for 3 weeks Her belief is that transatlantic exchanges make significant contributions to the production of scientific knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic.


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