Accepted paper:

'Be Sticking in a Tree, It'll Be Growing When You're Sleeping': Survivals from the 1884 International Forestry Exhibition in Edinburgh


Rosanna Nicolson (National Museums Scotland)
Sarah Worden (National Museums Scotland)

Paper short abstract:

In the ethnographic collection at National Museums Scotland are a group of objects from the 1884 International Forestry Exhibition held in Edinburgh. Originally exhibited as examples of 'forest produce' from British Colonies, this paper will explore the significance of their survival today.

Paper long abstract:

In 1884 Edinburgh held the first International Forestry Exhibition to raise money for a university forestry school, and to showcase other sources of timber from the colonies, as supplies from the Indian sub-continent were rapidly depleting. Scotland's long-held economic and symbolic connection with their woodlands is evoked in a line from Walter Scott's famous Heart of Midlothian (1818), engraved on medals awarded to exhibition participants: 'when you have nothing else to do, you may be sticking in a tree, it'll be growing when you're sleeping'. The exhibition included examples of economic botany from British colonies, which were then gifted to the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art. Seventy items from India, Malaysia, South America and West Africa remain in the collection. Objects include tools and utensils, personal belongings and ornaments, hand-weaving equipment, basketry and mats, instruments and models, as well as 'miscellaneous items', all made from locally available natural materials. These have remained in the collection despite systematic deaccessioning and transfer of ethnobotany in the mid-20th century to the Botanic Gardens and the University's Forestry Department, all of which were also then later disposed of. Did they survive because they were categorised as ethnography, rather than natural history, science or technology, or rather because they cross these boundaries and fell through the gaps? By examining this survival, and the colonial context in which the exhibition was staged, this paper will consider how the collection might become a resource today for researchers from a range of disciplines.

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Reactivating Ethnobotanical Collections in the Anthropology Museum