Accepted Paper:

Museum exchange and the role of the 'duplicate': Kew and the trade in biocultural objects  


Caroline Cornish (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Felix Driver (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Kew's Museum of Economic Botany (1847-1987) played a major role in the acquisition and dispersal of botanical specimens and artefacts, exchanging with museums around the world. The paper will focus on the role of exchanges, especially of 'duplicates', in shaping the museum's collection and networks.

Paper long abstract:

The Museum of Economic Botany (1847-1987) at Kew Gardens collected and displayed objects demonstrating human uses of plants. The result was a heterogeneous collection including plant specimens, plant derivatives, and artefacts, both hand- and machine-made. Such 'economic' collections―crossing between nature and culture― were integral to the imperial project. Today they are referred to as 'biocultural' collections.

Like the Kew Herbarium, whose collecting and exchange practices it emulated, the Kew Museum became a centre for the redistribution of plant-based objects through an extended museum network encompassing collections of natural history, technology, ethnography, archaeology and art. In this paper we focus on the role of inter-museum transfers, especially in the context of 'duplicate' exchange. Drawing on objects and archival sources at Kew and elsewhere, we analyse how value was established through the process of 'equivalencing' across a diverse range of objects.

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