- 16 Nov. – 17.30-18.30: Marine Bellégo (LARCA – CNRS) – “”Plants and papers : imperial lives of botanical things, 1848-1914.”
This paper will examine a central function of colonial botanical gardens in the late 19th century : the production, circulation and conservation of botanical objects. Much has been written about the difficult circulation of living plants, which were often sent from one botanic garden to another for acclimatization. However, the conditions under which plants were turned into dried specimens, which in turn were used to produce official botanical knowledge, has been less studied. Through the case study of the Calcutta botanic garden, I will show that the transformation of plants into objects served the colonial appropriation and legitimation of local botanical knowledge. The logistics of plant production and conservation were far from secondary to the colonial project; they played an important part in the broader imperial system of paper and information management that underpinned the British Raj in the 19th century.
Marine Bellégo has recently joined the LARCA as MCF (lecturer). She specializes in history of science, environmental studies, material culture and Indian history. She is currently preparing a book about the history of the Calcutta Botanic Garden in the 19th century.
- 14 Dec. 17.30-18.30 : Dr. Serena Dyer (De Montfort Univeristy, Leicester): “Fashions in Miniature: Laetitia Powell’s Dolls and Material Life-Writing”.
Dolls may be mute and their eyes glassy and lifeless, but the tiny stitches used to construct them hold a myriad of stories about their makers, owners and users. Between the age of thirteen in 1754 and her death at the age of sixty in 1801, Laetitia Powell carefully dressed at least twelve dolls which, together, tell her personal and material story. Begun in childhood, but continued throughout adulthood, these dolls acted as a sartorial biography. Notes tacked to the hems of the dolls’ petticoats reveal the date they were stitched and proffer a description of each doll’s outfit. These snippets of information reveal that these garments were not generic specimens or imaginative fancies. Instead, they were often miniature versions of Powell’s own garments. This life-narrative through fashion, layered with the development and improvement of Powell’s own skill as a maker, can be read across the twelve dolls. Through these dolls, this paper suggests, the dynamics of making and buying dress were intricately entwined with biography. Dolls could be conduits for a wealth of personal and sartorial information.
Dr Serena Dyer is Lecturer in History of Design and Material Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. She has edited, with Chloe Wigston Smith, Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Nation of Makers (Bloomsbury, 2020) and is author of Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the 18th Century (Bloomsbury, 2021).
- 11 Jan. Monday 17.30-18.30 – Bénédicte Miyamoto (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle), “Dirty Books: Stains and Holes in 17th-and 18th-century Drawing Manuals“
Was reading actually a learning process for craftsmen? To answer Pamela Smith’s question, I have surveyed 10,000 pages of drawing manuals for their visual marginalia. What was done to books informs us of what was done with books, where they were read, and what the practical end of reading was. Paint stains, pin-pricks, graphite or gridding traces show these manuals were used to record the trial and error of professionals, rather than to transfer knowledge from master to apprentice. Many bear traces of expert use (authoritative corrections meant to improve plates, tables or texts for example) or intensive use (traces of drawing practice, of plates delineated for transfer, or of palette and pigment experiments). These user marks diverge with the traditional narrative according to which drawing manuals were primarily used by amateurs and youth, and hint at a use as reference tool and workshop staple.
Bénédicte Miyamoto is an Associate Professor of British History at the Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle, 2020 short-term Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library and Resident Scholar at the Dibner Smithsonian Library. She co-edited with Louisiane Ferlier Forms, Formats and the Circulation of Knowledge: British Printscape’s Innovations, 1688-1832. Brill, Library of the Written Word – The Handpress World, 2020. Her research focuses on the artistic culture and trade of Britain, 1600-1800.
- 12 April – 17.30-18.30 : Amanda Herbert (Folger Library / Invited Professor LARCA): “Before Farm to table“
Before “Farm to Table”: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures is a four-year, $1.5 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation initiative in collaborative research. The premise of the project is that food, then as now, is a basic human need. It also has a history and is a gateway to understanding different societies and cultures. Over the course of the project we have investigated big questions about the way food participates in and actively shapes human knowledge, ethics, and imagination. These include things like the unevenness of food supply, the development and spread of “tastes,” the recovery of the experiences of enslaved foodworkers, the socially cohesive rituals of eating together. Our hope has been that a fresh understanding of a pre-industrial food world will give us purchase on the post-industrial assumptions, aspirations, and challenges surrounding modern foodways.