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This international conference will be held from the 6th-7th December, 2011, on the general theme of South Asian natural history collections with a special emphasis on the collections of the Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), a major figure in the history and development of botany in the nineteenth century.

 

As superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden (1817-1846), he undertook botanical expeditions, described new plant species, amassed a large herbarium, collected thousands of plant specimens and commissioned local artists to draw beautiful botanical watercolours. His work has thus been influential in South Asian Natural History research.

 

This conference will explore the challenges associated with exploiting such collections and the interesting opportunities they provide for interdisciplinary research. In particular, the conference will consider the experience of the recent “Wallich and Indian Natural History” project as an interesting exemplar (a collaboration with the British Library and The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). An earlier blog post outlined some of the work of this project.

 

Major South Asian natural history collections from the 18th and 19th century are now dispersed across institutions in South Asia, Europe and beyond. Thus, the conference will be hosted by the Natural History Museum, London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in partnership with the British Library. This conference plays an integral part in the World Collections Programme funded project “Wallich and Indian Natural History”.

 

More information is available on the NHM Centre for Arts and Humanities website. A full programme and travel information will be available on that site by the 30th September, 2011. Abstract Submission Deadline: 30th August, 2011

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Ranee Tiwari, Polly Parry and Julie Harvey from the Museum are currently visiting the Acharya Jagadish  Chandra Bose  Botanical Garden in Kolkata, India (formerly Calcutta) to collaborate on a project that combines science and history.  They are working on the plant collections and correspondence of Nathaniel Wallich who held the post of Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden in the early 19th Century, part of a project involving the National Archives of India, the Acharya  Jagadish Chandra  Bose Botanical   Garden, the NHM, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the British Library.

 

The NHM collections have developed over the past three centuries as a resource and reference for current scientific research, but always as part of a wider network of collaboration between museums, universities and botanical gardens in many different countries.  Information and specimens are constantly added to ensure that the collections reflect the best modern understanding of diversity and evolution.  However, they have a wider value: the gradual development of the collection reflects and captures all sorts of information and evidence of historical, social and economic interest.


Nathaniel Wallich's work, including botanical collections, watercolour drawings and correspondence is an invaluable scientific and historical resource for researchers and botanists around the world. He was central to the development of Indian botanical collections for a period, and exchanged specimens and letters with collaborators in different parts of the world: a quick search of the NHM botany collection database online shows Wallich as the named collector for more than 2,200 specimens.  This collaborative project will trace Wallich materials in different organisations and develop a website resource for public and research use.

 

Wallich was Danish, born in Copenhagen, but moved to the Danish settlement at Serampore in Bengal.  This was captured by the British East India Company shortly afterwards, Wallich and other Danes were employed by the Company: Wallich in the botanical garden from 1809, where he eventually became Superintendent at a period of prolific collection of plants from across Indian and neighbouring territories.

 

The long history of museum collections means that there is huge potential for research in the Arts and Humanities. In addition to their modern value, specimens and archives reflect past views of the world and are often associated with particular social or political developments, or with particular figures of both scientific and broader interest.  This resource is used by historians, anthropologists, artists and others for particular projects and the Museum has set up a specialist NHM Centre for Arts and Humanities Research to focus, support and develop these activities.