15 Face to Face with Nain Singh: the Schlagintweit Collections and Their Uses

In: Naturalists in the Field
Felix Driver
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This chapter considers the culture and practices of nineteenth-century expeditionary science, focusing on the collections of the Schlagintweit expedition to India and High Asia, sponsored by the Royal Society and the King of Prussia, in 1854-1857. Perhaps best known for their work in physical geography, the Schlagintweit brothers conceived their work in Humboldtian terms as a mapping of both natural and cultural landscapes.  As well as compiling vast inventories of geographical, topographic and meteorological data, they collected almost every kind of thing they encountered, dispatching large quantities of material to London and Berlin, including soil and water samples, wood specimens, rocks, seeds, plants, reptiles, paper, textiles, sacred texts and farming tools. The chapter focuses especially on the Schlagintweits’ technical and ethnographic collections, organized in some respects as if they were natural history specimens. Looking specifically at a set of 275 “ethnographical heads” produced from plaster moulds made in the course of the expedition, it emphasizes the role of local labour and key intermediaries in the production of expeditionary science and raises questions about the potential uses of such collections today.

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Naturalists in the Field

Collecting, Recording and Preserving the Natural World from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century

Series:  Emergence of Natural History, Volume: 2


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