Dr Caroline Cornish

Personal profile

Project title: The Mobile Museum: Economic Botany in Circulation


The Mobile Museum is a 3-year, AHRC-funded, collaborative research project between Royal Holloway and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew with the overarching aim of mapping the circulation of economic botany specimens between Kew and other institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Economic botany−the study of plants useful to humans−was widely understood as a distinct field of knowledge in the period spanning 1850-1950, with dedicated museum collections formed and displayed at the global, national and regional levels.  In Britain and Europe the subject and its practices were very much embedded in the imperial projects of those polities.  In the postcolonial era, economic botany collections, consisting both of plant specimens and objects made from them, have often been subsumed into wider collections of natural history or world cultures.  Their original context lost, many of them are now at best consigned to stores, and at worst vulnerable to disposal.

The history of museum collections is dominated by accounts of acquisition; The Mobile Museum will instead focus on a less-studied aspect, dispersal. In conjunction with partner museums as far apart as Glasgow and Adelaide, data will be gathered and analysed in order to map the movement of such collections across time and space. And since economic botany was also a subject taught on school curricula in the UK and across the British Empire, with many specimens redistributed from Kew to schools for object lessons and school museums, there is also a pedagogical research strand to the project. Our aims are to better understand museum networks of exchange and knowledge production over this period, and to help museums find new uses for such collections.  Our material legacy will include a publicly-accessible database of our findings, a book, and an education project for schools across Key Stages 1 and 2, enabling them to create school museums for the 21st century.


Website: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/mobilemuseum

ID: 27596452