Introducing the members of The Collection Ecologies Research Collective – Part 2

Our collective stemmed from conversations about the connections between environmental history/humanities and collections and how much those connections are unexplored. The first steps of the collective history were exposed in the previous post which you can read here.

This week, we wish to further introduce our collective and we have asked three additional members, Apurba Chatterjee, Patrick Anthony and Anita Guerrini to briefly introduce themselves and present their interest in the collective’s project.

Detail from Two mineral specimens found in the Fossa Grande on Mount Vesuvius. Coloured etching by Pietro Fabris, 1776.
Credit: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

Hello there Apurba, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in the collective?

I am a historian of the British Empire, with a particular focus on its cultural representations. I completed my PhD at the University of Sheffield in 2020, working on visual imagery and political legitimacy in British Indian Empire between the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Thereafter, I was an international research fellow at Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum, where I worked on the relationship between colonialism and maritime painting. I will be beginning a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship later this year. I am enthusiastic about the decolonisation of historical curricula, and turn to evidence other than textual as an endeavour towards this goal. My recent publication has addressed the artworks of British landscape artists, Thomas and William Daniell in India.

As a collection ecologist, I am interested in how indigenous knowledge, especially visual knowledge, has informed European natural history and science, and political meanings of such exchanges. On a wider level, I am interested in how imperialism has defined our understanding of distinctions between the ‘scientific’ and the ‘unscientific’.

Thank you very much Apurba!

An iron mine and miners working. Detail
An iron mine and miners working. Etching by J. Heath, 1813, after C.M. Metz. Credit: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

Now your turn Patrick: who are you? Why have joined this group?

I am a historian of science and the environment interested in the relationship between working and knowing in mines and mountains. I hold a PhD from Vanderbilt University. In 2021-23 I will be a postdoctoral researcher at the LMU Munich and Cambridge University, supported by the DAAD PRIME program. In recent publications I have studied the formation of natural knowledge within the administrative, visual, and vernacular cultures of central European mining. My first book project reimagines “Humboldtian science” from below, as a collective enterprise whose system of inquiry in mines and atop mountains was sustained by miners, technicians, surveyors, and many more.

As a collection ecologist, I am researching the socio-environmental conditions of possibility for artisans, shepherds, and other members of highland communities to play a vital, though often unacknowledged, role in natural history collecting. This is the focus of my second book project, which reconstructs the lifeworld of highland families—many of them blacksmiths, cobblers, and wainwrights by trade—who established dynastic mountain-guiding and naturalia-collecting enterprises from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Inspired by my fellow “collecologists,” I am currently working to trace modern museum objects back to their original “cabinets” in the homes of these upland artisans.

That’s fantastic, and we hope to be reading your book very soon!

Plate from Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du cabinet du roi, by Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon.
Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

And to close this week’s presentations, let’s turn to Anita. Can you please tell us about yourself and your participation to Collection Ecologies ?

I am a historian of science, medicine, and the environment. My primary research focus is at the intersections of early modern human and animal anatomy and natural history, and I have also worked on the history of animal and human experimentation, on the role of history in ecological restoration, and on the history of food. My most recent book, The Courtiers’ Anatomists: Animals and Humans in Louis XIV’s Paris (2015) looks at the animal projects of the early Paris Academy of Sciences. Currently I am working on the interpretation of fossil bones in early modern Europe, which encompasses anatomy, geology, collecting, and history-writing. These bones were often interpreted as belonging to ancestral humans, and as such they played important roles in establishing narratives of national identity. I have another related project on the history of the early modern human skeleton. I am based at Oregon State University with an additional appointment at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

I am happy to be included in the Collection Ecologies group. My current research is very much collection-based, and I am looking at both past and current natural history collections with attention to provenance and interpretation as well as to the physical bones themselves. The environmental contexts of discovery, collection and display therefore are central to my work, and I am particularly glad to be able to tie together what have often been disconnected interests within the circle of Collection Ecologies. I have already learned much from my fellow collecologists.

And we have also learned a lot from you, Anita, and we are looking forward to continue our conversation on collections.

This is it for this week’s blog from the Collection Ecologists. More soon, with more historians, but also more artists and museum specialists !

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