Face to Face with Nain Singh: the Schlagintweit Collections and Their Uses

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter considers the culture and practices of nineteenth-century expeditionary science, focusing on the collections of the Schlagintweit expedition to India and High Asia, sponsored by the Royal Society and the King of Prussia, in 1854-1857. Perhaps best known for their work in physical geography, the Schlagintweit brothers conceived their work in Humboldtian terms as a mapping of both natural and cultural landscapes. As well as compiling vast inventories of geographical, topographic and meteorological data, they collected almost every kind of thing they encountered, dispatching large quantities of material to London and Berlin, including soil and water samples, wood specimens, rocks, seeds, plants, reptiles, paper, textiles, sacred texts and farming tools. The chapter focuses especially on the Schlagintweits’ technical and ethnographic collections, organized in some respects as if they were natural history specimens. Looking specifically at a set of 275 “ethnographical heads” produced from plaster moulds made in the course of the expedition, it emphasizes the role of local labour and key intermediaries in the production of expeditionary science and raises questions about the potential uses of such collections today.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNaturalists in the Field
Subtitle of host publicationCollecting, Recording and Preserving the Natural World from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century
EditorsArthur MacGregor
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-32384-1
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-32383-4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2018

Publication series

NameEmergence of Natural History

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