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Natural History in the Age of Revolutions, 1776–1848

Staffan Müller-Wille

"Natural History in the Age of Revolutions, 1776–1848" is a collaborative, interdisciplinary project based in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge from 1 October 2022. Working with project partners based in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, this project aims to investigate how the working practices of naturalists adapted to the political agendas of imperial expansion, nation state formation, and revolutionary movements in the years around 1800. The analysis explores how visions of plant, animal and human diversity supported or resisted these agendas in turn.

Specifically, this project examines how travelling naturalists and naturalists in curatorial positions used printed books, manuscripts, illustrations and specimens to manage information flows in a world torn between imperial expansion and revolutionary ambitions and involving diverse groups across the British empire ranging from missionaries and military surgeons to entrepreneurs and Polynesian elders. The project thus also responds to the current need to address the colonial past by exploring hidden histories of the legacies of empire by unlocking diverse contributions in what is too often considered a uniquely 'Western' heritage.