Mobile Museums

Collections in circulation

Edited by Felix Driver, Mark Nesbitt, and Caroline Cornish

ISBN: 9781787355088

Publication: April 01, 2021

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Mobile Museums presents an argument for the importance of circulation in the study of museum collections, past and present. It brings together an impressive array of international scholars and curators from a wide variety of disciplines – including the history of science, museum anthropology and postcolonial history - to consider the mobility of collections. The book combines historical perspectives on the circulation of museum objects in the past with contemporary accounts of their re-mobilisation, notably in the context of Indigenous community engagement. Contributors seek to explore processes of circulation historically in order to re-examine, inform and unsettle common assumptions about the way museum collections have evolved over time and through space.

By foregrounding questions of circulation, the chapters in Mobile Museums collectively represent a paradigm shift in the understanding of the history and future uses of museum collections. The book addresses a variety of different types of collection, including the botanical, the ethnographic, the economic and the archaeological. Its perspective is truly global, with case studies drawn from South America, West Africa, Oceania, Australia, the United States, Europe and the UK. Mobile Museums helps us to understand why the mobility of museum collections was a fundamental aspect of their history and why it continues to matter today.

Felix Driver is Professor of Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and Honorary Research Associate at Kew.

Mark Nesbitt is Honorary Associate Professor at UCL Institute of Archaeology, Visiting Professor at Royal Holloway and Senior Research Leader at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Caroline Cornish is Senior Research Officer (Plant Humanities) at Royal Holloway, University of London and Honorary Research Associate at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Introduction: mobilising and re-mobilising collections
Felix Driver, Mark Nesbitt and Caroline Cornish

1. Plant artefacts then and now: reconnecting biocultural collections in Amazonia
Luciana Martins

2. Re-mobilising colonial collections in decolonial times: exploring the latent possibilities of N. W. Thomas’ West African collections
Paul Basu

3. Circuits of accumulation and loss: intersecting natural histories of the 1928 USDA New Guinea Sugarcane Expedition’s collections
Joshua A. Bell

4. Kew’s mobile museum: economic botany in circulation
Caroline Cornish, Felix Driver & Mark Nesbitt

5. Illustrating anthropological knowledge: texts, images and duplicate specimens at the Smithsonian Institution and Pitt Rivers Museum
Catherine A. Nichols

6. Expeditionary collections: Haslar Hospital Museum and the circulation of public knowledge, 1815-1855
Daniel Simpson

7. Mobile botany: education, horticulture and commerce in New York botanical gardens, 1890s-1930s
Sally Gregory Kohlstedt

8. Plants on the move: Kew Gardens and the London schoolroom
Laura Newman

9. Circulations of paradise (or How to use a specimen to best personal advantage)
Jude Philp

10. Circulation as negotiation and loss: Egyptian antiquities from British excavations, 1880–present
Alice Stevenson

11. Colonising memory: Indigenous heritage and community engagement
Claudia Augustat

12. The flow of things: mobilising museum collections of nineteenth-century Fijian liku (fibre skirts) and veiqia (female tattooing)
Karen Jacobs

Afterword: What goes around, comes around: mobility's modernity
Martha Fleming


'An important new dimension has been added to collections history in recent years – largely through the work of the contributors to this volume. The first major work to examine the implications and consequences of the migration of materials from one scientific or cultural milieu to another, it also highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of collections and offers insights into their potential for future re-mobilization, rendering the collected specimens accessible to the societies that produced, or gathered, or lived amongst them.' - Arthur MacGregor 

Format: Open Access PDF

76 colour illustrations

Copyright: © 2021

ISBN: 9781787355088

Publication: April 01, 2021

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