Strange Beauty: Botanical Collecting in the Victorian Tropics

Elaine Ayers, Princeton University

The Wagner Free Institute of Science and the Consortium for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (Philadelphia, PA)

Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm

1700 West Montgomery Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19121

For Victorian naturalists, tropical plants presented a challenge and an opportunity. It was difficult to find and transport these strange and beautiful specimens, but doing so could mean a lifetime of professional security for a young explorer. Elaine Ayers will share the stories of the middle-class women collectors who went to great lengths to collect, preserve, and display tropical plants—specifically moss, orchids, carnivorous pitcher-plants, and the giant corpse flower—while exploring what these plants represented to society at the time.
The Wagner's historic natural history museum will remain open until the talk begins at 6:00 PM.
Elaine Ayers is a PhD candidate in the Program in the History of Science at Princeton University, where she works on the intersections of aesthetics, exploration, and natural history in the Romantic and Victorian tropics. Her research, which has taken her from London to Indonesia, examines the ways in which plants, rather than people, traveled across oceans and transformed from curiosities in the rainforest to objects of singular beauty--and sometimes revulsion--in museums, gardens, and herbaria. Before coming to Princeton, Elaine received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and studied as a Delmas Fellow at the New York Botanical Garden Humanities Institute. Her most recent work can be found in The Public Domain Review and The Appendix.
This lecture is presented in partnership with the Wagner Free Institute of Science of Philadelphia.