Workshop, 27 January 2022: ‘New Perspectives on Hans Sloane’

The Society for the History of Collecting

Invites you to its Online Lecture

‘New Perspectives on Hans Sloane’ (Part Two)

ECR & PhD Workshop

Thursday 27th January, 2022 6.30pm (GMT)

This two-part workshop provides a platform for new research across the collections of Hans Sloane (1660–1753). Sloane – a physician, naturalist and president of both the Royal Society and Royal College of Surgeons – amassed a large and varied collection during his lifetime, participating in and profiting from global networks of European colonial expansion as he sought to collect the world. His collections brought together over 50,000 books and manuscripts, natural history objects, coins, prints and drawings, antiquities and ethnographic items. Sloane’s museum was sold to the British state at his death in 1753, and can now be found within three national collections: the British Museum, British Library and Natural History Museum. Over two sessions, doctoral and early career researchers will share their research from across Sloane’s collections, discussing particular objects as well as Sloane’s position in wider collecting cultures and networks. Topics will include: decolonising Sloane’s herbarium and botanical collections, the interrogation of his catalogues, his printed will and testament, and his network of peers. The panels of speakers include Bradley Lewis Scott (Queen Mary University of London and Natural History Museum), India Cole (Queen Mary University of London and Oxford Botanic Garden), Will Burgess (Queen Mary University of London), Victoria Pickering (Natural History Museum), Edwin Rose (University of Cambridge), Alice Wickenden (Durham), Deborah Leem (UCL) and Janet Stiles Tyson (Birkbeck, University of London).

Edwin Rose (Cambridge University) ‘Collecting, Classifying and Curating Nature in the Collection on Hans Sloane’

This talk gives an overview of the networks and practices used to obtain, arrange, name and classify information in Hans Sloane’s botanical collection. Through concentrating on the activities of a succession of curators it is possible to trace specimens and the information that accompanied them, understanding how this was manipulated and reformulated at different ends of the globe. These networks were always collaborative, establishing hierarchies of information between indigenous and enslaved peoples, collectors in the field, curators and the owners of collections. These connections can be found through tracing the provenance of specific specimens through diverse paper technologies ranging between letters, annotated books and the labels on the specimens themselves, information often duplicated and adapted by different collectors who divided shipments of specimens to serve interests ranging from those of physicians, gardeners and university professors.

Alice Wickenden (Durham University) ‘Rethinking Hans Sloane’s library’

My paper looks at the position that books occupied in his collection both during his lifetime and after it, in order to ask what we define as books and why histories of institutional categorization ought to matter to scholars. It explores the development of ‘the library’ from the medieval period to its existence as we understand it today and encourages an engagement with questions we might assume have obvious answers, such as ‘what is the difference between a library and a museum?’ and ‘what is a book?’

Deborah Leem (UCL) ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Catalogue Miscellanea: from TEI to CSV for Data Analysis

This paper presents an overview of a case study on the manuscript catalogue titled ‘Miscellanea’. As part of a collaborative project between UCL and the British Museum, this catalogue has been digitised and encoded in line with a custom schema of the Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). Sloane’s own manuscript catalogues of his collections are fundamental to unlocking his intellectual legacies. By interrogating the catalogue as data this case study explores some of the situated difficulties that can arise during the automatic extraction of targeted data. Furthermore, the case study shows to what extent applying computational methods reveals the complexities of the catalogue data.

Janet Stiles Tyson (Birkbeck, University of London) ‘Hans Sloane’s support for Elizabeth Blackwell’s production of A Curious Herbal’

Elizabeth Blackwell’s production of A Curious Herbal, whose two-volume first edition was published in 1737 and 1739, was facilitated by a number of prominent men, Richard Mead and Hans Sloane, the best known among them. But, where Mead was active in promoting support for the project from the very beginning, Sloane declined to be among those early promoters. This presentation addresses evidence – including texts in the Herbal and a letter to Sloane, found in the British Library’s Sloane manuscript archives – that suggests ways in which Sloane did contribute to the work’s production. His key contribution, perhaps not surprisingly, was to allow Blackwell to use his collection during the later stages of her research.

Alexandra Ortolja-Baird (University of Portsmouth) ‘Hauntings in the Archive: Recovering Silen/t/ced Voices in Hans Sloane’s Collection Catalogues’

Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogues of his vast collections are renowned for their detail, complexity and often innovative forms of information management and record keeping. However, behind this richness lie profound information absences. Records regarding the routes by which objects made their way into Sloane’s possession, through which hands they passed, their exact origins and creators, and the means by which they were acquired is, at notable points, sparse. Who and what was, and was not, documented largely reflects the social hierarchies and prejudices of Sloane’s era: an era where colonial attitudes to collecting prevailed.

To explore these absences, this paper conceives Sloane’s catalogues as being “haunted” by figures whose existence, though not recorded, is clearly implied by the very existence of Sloane’s global collection. It will illustrate how digital tools and other methodologies can be realigned to recover or at least better acknowledge the undocumented network of individuals who are excluded from Sloane’s “paper empire”, and it will think more broadly about how such absences and invisible agency can be communicated in current-day collections.

Chair: Julianne Nyhan (UCL) Professor at TU Darmstadt leading a new departure in ‘Humanities Data Science and Methodology’ in the Institute of History. She is also Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of Information Studies and Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. Previously, Professor Nyhan has been Programme Director of the MA/MSc in Digital Humanities; Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and on the Leadership board of the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage. She is currently Principal Investigator of the AHRC & UKRI-funded Towards a National Collection Sloane Lab project. As well as being: Principal Investigator, ESRC-funded Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914 (OcEx) (2017-2019); co-Investigator, Critical Heritage Studies and the Future of Europe (CHEurope), H2020-MSCA-ITN-2016 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action: Innovative Training Networks (2016-2020); co-Investigator, Leverhulme Trust-funded Enlightenment Architectures: Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogues of his collections (2016-19) and Expert Advisor, NEH-funded Reconstructing the first Humanities Computing Centre (2017-19).

Members will receive a flyer with the link to the talk at least two days before the event.

Non-members should register by emailing: events@societyhistorycollecting.org

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