Wallich and Indian Natural History: Collection Dispersal and the Cultivation of Knowledge

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Event Date: 6 December 2011
Flett Lecture Theatre
Natural History Museum
London SW7 5BD


Wallich and Indian Natural History:
Collection Dispersal and the Cultivation of Knowledge


This international, interdisciplinary conference will be held on the 6th and 7th December, 2011 at the Natural History Museum, London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on the general theme of South Asian natural history collections, with a special emphasis on those of the Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786–1854). Wallich is a major figure in the history and development of botany in the nineteenth century. As Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden between 1817 and 1846, he undertook botanical expeditions, described new plant species, collected thousands of plant specimens amassing a large herbarium, and commissioned local artists to draw beautiful botanical watercolours. His work has therefore been extremely influential in South Asian natural history research.

Major South Asian natural history collections from the 18th and 19th century are now dispersed across institutions in South Asia, Europe and beyond. This conference will explore the challenges associated with studying and exploiting such collections and the interesting opportunities they provide for interdisciplinary research. It forms an integral part of the World Collections Programme-funded project “Wallich and Indian Natural History”, the first inter-institutional endeavour of its kind between the Natural History Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the British Library. In particular, this project is creating an exciting new website (coming soon) which supports a virtual collection of the plant drawings, specimens and correspondence of Nathaniel Wallich.

In celebration of this project, a group of distinguished international speakers has been brought together to present papers covering a wide range of different disciplines. They will speak on the first day of the conference at the Natural History Museum. Day two, held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, will provide a unique opportunity to see a wide range of Wallich and related materials (including original drawings and herbarium collections) behind the scenes at Kew. We welcome everyone interested in natural history, art history, botany, South Asian studies, social history, history of the British Empire, museum studies and digital humanities to join us for what we anticipate will be a very stimulating conference.



Welcome by Professor Philip Rainbow (Keeper of Zoology, NHM) .

Opening Remarks (Julie Harvey, CAHR Centre)



Panel 1 – Nathaniel Wallich: His Expeditions and Collections

(Chair: Dr B. Venugopal, Director, National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi)

David Arnold (Department of History, University of Warwick)
Nathaniel Wallich and the Natural History of India

Bodhisattva Kar (Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam)
Frontier, Collected: Nathaniel Wallich in the North-Eastern Frontier of British India

Sangeeta Rajbhandary (Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University), and
Krishna K. Shrestha (Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University), Mark F. Watson (Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh)
Wallich and the First Explorations of the Nepalese Flora

Panel 1 Discussion



Panel 2 – Dispersal and Movement within the British Empire

(Chair: Professor Felix Driver, Professor of Human Geography, Royal Holloway College, University of London)

Sandip Hazareesingh (Department of History, The Open University)
Plants, Power and Productivity: The East India Company and Cotton Imperialism in Early Nineteenth-Century Western India

Caroline Cornish (Department of Geography, Royal Holloway College, University of London)
Circulating India: Kew, Colonial Forestry and Circuits of Display

Kapil Raj (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris)
Title TBC

Panel 2 Discussion



Panel 3. The Wallich Project
(Chair: Dr Vinita Damodaran, Senior Lecturer in South Asian History, University of Sussex)

Henry Noltie (Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh)
Scottish Surgeons and Indian Botany: Dispersed Collections of Drawings and Specimens, a Case Study from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Antonia Moon (British Library) and Charlie Jarvis (Natural History Museum)
Wallich’s Papers at the British Library and Beyond

Timothy Utteridge (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), Clare Drinkell (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) and Ranee Prakash (Natural History Museum) The Wallich Plant Illustrations in London: Identification and Dissemination
[AUDIO HERE] Panel 3 Discussion



Closing Remarks (Julie Harvey, CAHR Centre) .


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