Accepted Paper:

Keg No 5: Bird Collecting and the Value of Specimens from the US North Pacific Expedition (1853-56)  


Joshua A. Bell (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the bird specimens collected during the US North Pacific Expedition (1853-56) at the Smithsonian Institution. Interrogating archival records and the specimens, I elucidate the agencies involved in their collecting, and their valuation as specimens and as currency of exchange.

Paper long abstract:

Within this paper I examine bird specimens collected by Lt. Van Wyck in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea and the wider Pacific during the US North Pacific Expedition (1853-56). While Lt. Van Wyck went missing when his ship the US Brig Porpoise disappeared on its homeward voyage, the numerous bird specimens he collected survived on another naval vessel and came to the Smithsonian Institution in Keg Number 5. Interrogating the US North Pacific's surviving archival records and Lt Van Wyck's specimens themselves, I seek to elucidate the human and nonhuman agencies involved in their collecting. Discussing their trajectories once at the Smithsonian I track out the various purifications around the specimens that subsequently ensued. Doing so, I highlight the hidden labor of science, and the valuation of natural history specimens from New Guinea and the Pacific as type specimens and as currency of exchange in the Smithsonian during the 19th century.

Panel P100
Collections as Currency? Objects, Exchange, Values and Institutions