Introducing the members of The Collection Ecologies Research Collective – Part 3 —

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,  Linda Andersson Burnett, Taylor Moore, and Anna Svensson to briefly introduce themselves and present their interest in the collective’s project.


Bullock’s Museum (Egyptian Hall or London Museum), 1810. Credit: Wellcome Collection, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

 

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

I am a historian of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University. I am interested in the movement of natural-history ideas, people and material objects across different strata of society and across national boundaries. My particular focus is on the movement and entanglement of scientific ideas, objects and practices between Sweden and Britain in national and colonial settings. I hold a PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh (2012). Thereafter I was the Simon Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in Edinburgh before returning to Sweden in 2013.

I am delighted to be part of the Collection Ecologies research collective. My two current projects deal with instructed natural-history and anatomical collecting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They address how museum collections were assembled through engagement between universities, museums and the lay public in this period.

In my research I try to combine a participatory agenda with an awareness of the asymmetry of power relations and, at times, tensions, conflict and violence that permeated collecting networks. This is particularly important to me when researching networks that included enslaved or Indigenous peoples. I am already learning so much from my fellow collection ecologists and I am very much looking forward to our future collaborations.


Talisman Display Case at Egyptian Geographical Society’s Ethnographic Museum, Photo by Author, Cairo, 2016.

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

I am a historian of science, technology, medicine/healing, and the occult in Egypt and the late Ottoman world. My research interests lie at the intersections of decolonial materiality studies, critical race studies, gender and sexuality studies, and STS. My work utilizes objects from ethnographic, medical, and natural history collections as archival sources that illuminate the occult(ed) networks, economies, and actors whose knowledge, bodies, and labor are generally rendered invisible in Eurocentric histories of global science.

I am currently a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I will join the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies for the AYs 2021-2023 where I will be working on my book project, Superstitious Women: Race, Magic, and Medicine in Egypt. My book combines amuletic objects collected in Egypt in the early twentieth century with sources in Arabic and Ottoman Turkish to reconstruct the role that Upper Egyptian female healers played in the global development of anthropological expertise and the robust political and spiritual economies of healing in late Ottoman Egypt. I am also working on projects that investigate Ottoman-Egyptian collecting and ethnographic practices as a part of the government’s attempts to colonize Nilotic East Africa and racialize Black African populations in the late nineteenth century.

My interest in Collection Ecologies is in exploring methods to use (what are generally colonial) scientific collections to write emancipatory, decolonial histories of communities in the non-West, and to tell histories of science, collecting, and knowledge production that do not center Europe or the United States. More specifically, my work develops the method of “decolonial materialism” which engages with and decolonizes new materialism to utilize its ontological possibilities to tell the stories of humans that have never been seen as “human enough.”


‘The Librarian’ by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1560s. Credit Skoklosters slott via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

And to wrap up this week’s presentations, let’s turn to Anna Svensson. Can you please tell us about yourself and your participation in the Collection Ecologies collective?

I am a historian of botany particularly interested in the ways collections have shaped this science over the longue durée, with a perennial curiosity about universal order and other utopian ideas. Collections provide a common thread to my motley background in English Literature, Museum Studies and finally History of Science, Technology and Environment (PhD 2017 from KTH, Stockholm). Much of my research to date has gravitated towards the UK, particularly the early years of the Oxford University Botanic Garden and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, but I am currently exploring more Swedish material. I will be based in Uppsala for the next three years working on ‘Botanical Marginalia’, focusing on pressed plants in books that are not collections in the formal sense, but part of a wider collecting culture. I am always on the lookout for uncatalogued examples!

This research in many ways exemplifies what attracts me to the Collection Ecologies research collective. The scattered nature of pressed plants means using them as a source material is necessarily a collaborative undertaking made possible only through the input and generosity of colleagues, librarians, archivists, and others. More widely, I have already learned so much from exchanges with other collection-oriented researchers working on the world beyond plants: firstly, there are shared challenges and rewards with collection-based research, not least at the level of theory and method; secondly, the comparison has given me a better understanding of how the specificities of plants as organisms – within different ecologies – has shaped how and why they have been collected, ordered, and valued. Collections are best explored collectively.

Many thanks to this week’s Collection Ecologists who introduced themselves. More soon, with more historians, artists and museum specialists sharing their work and interest in exploring the ‘ecology’  of natural history collections!