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Arthur MacGregor

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Arthur MacGregor

Abstract

In the course of the six centuries and more considered here, the concept of the naturalist and of the work that he or she undertakes in the field gradually took form and continues to develop. The status of the practitioners involved is so widely disparate as to defy easy categorization. In these introductory remarks some of the principal communities – arbitrarily defined – contributing to this movement are reviewed: a number of the most significant figures emerged from within the academic milieu, conducting their work initially in the tradition of the classical authors whose tracts held sway until the late Renaissance, yet they were increasingly reliant on the ocular evidence on which the New Science was built; others came from outside this tradition but contributed invaluable personal experience, insight and knowledge, practically acquired. Both are celebrated here, and their mutually enriching relationships are explored. Other essays here adopt a more specific focus in order to chart the ways in which the field practice that lies at the heart of this volume was guided and influenced by those who commissioned collecting expeditions – initially the founders of collectors’ cabinets, later the owners of systematic collections and ultimately the curators of veritable natural history museums. All of these operated in the role of sponsors for the field naturalists and all were anxious that material should reach them not only in optimum condition but with appropriate contextual data. Their demands were communicated variously in the course of correspondence, in printed pamphlets and ultimately in book-length instructions published for the benefit of those in the field: some of these texts are reproduced verbatim as appendices at the end of the volume.


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Arthur MacGregor

Abstract

The role of the first naturalists appointed by the East India Company in the later 1700s has been presented as essentially a subsidiary one – that of agents at the periphery with a primary duty to supply specimens to the scientific community of the metropolis (and especially its dominant figure, Sir Joseph Banks) rather than involving themselves in interpretation: the role is one that Banks himself made explicit, insisting on it on more than one occasion. Independently of this axis, an invaluable local relationship developed between the Company men (notably Patrick Russell and William Roxburgh) and naturalists from the German mission at the Danish colony of Tranquebar (especially Johann Gerhard König, Christoph Samuel John, and Johann Peter Rottler). The strong bonds of friendship that developed between these pioneer collectors – all of them physicians by training – on the Coromandel coast produced a mutually beneficial milieu in which continental and British practice mingled and flowered, ushering in the heyday of field collecting in British India.


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Naturalists in the Field

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

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Interposed between the natural world in all its diversity and the edited form in which we encounter it in literature, imagery and the museum, lie the multiple practices of the naturalists in selecting, recording and preserving the specimens from which our world view is to be reconstituted. The factors that weigh at every stage are here dissected, analysed and set within a historical narrative that spans more than five centuries. During that era, every aspect evolved and changed, as engagement with nature moved from a speculative pursuit heavily influenced by classical scholarship to a systematic science, drawing on advanced theory and technology. Far from being neutrally objective, the process of representing nature is shown as fraught with constraint and compromise.

With a Foreword by Sir David Attenborough

Contributors are: Marie Addyman, Peter Barnard, Paul D. Brinkman, Ian Convery, Peter Davis, Felix Driver, Florike Egmond, Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, Geoff Hancock, Stephen Harris, Hanna Hodacs, Stuart Houston, Dominik Huenniger, Rob Huxley, Charlie Jarvis, Malgosia Nowak-Kemp, Shepard Krech III, Mark Lawley, Arthur Lucas, Marco Masseti, Geoff Moore, Pat Morris, Charles Nelson, Robert Peck, Helen Scales, Han F. Vermeulen, and Glyn Williams.