Cross-cutting themes

The case studies carried out in the project are intended to fuel discussions on cross-cutting themes that have been selected on the basis of previous collaborations and research. Workshops organized by consortium partners will be dedicated to the exploration and discussion of these themes.

Amateurs and vocational scientists: encounters, networks, and practices

This theme deals with the actors in the field, their practices, their networks, and their places of encounters. It focuses on the factors that foster connections between vocational science and the circulation of objects, information and people.

Amateurs as go-betweens, places of encounters. Case studies centred around places of encounter such as a hotel in Carnac, a French café in Buenos Aires, and the Salvador family’s pharmacy in Barcelona will feed our reflection. We intend to show the wide range of unexpected places which attracted and connected people from different professions and social extraction, fostered new vocations, helped the circulation of knowledge and skills, and promoted social and scholarly trajectories.

Professional and occupational networks in the service of vocational science. We will study the role of professional networks which map out the field and can be mobilized in the service of collecting and gathering data and specimens. We will focus especially on missionaries and school teachers, school museums and collections.

Linguistic and national networks: the role of diasporas. The case studies carried on by members of the team reveal the diversity of the actors who collected on the fields: photographers, charlatans, physicians, civil servants and politicians, missionaries, journalist, etc., provided specimens to museums. We intend to focus more specifically on the key role of national diaspora in people’s travels and careers and in specimens and collections circulation; for example, on the role of the German speaking networks in Latin America in the case of Carlos Berg or José Fernando Ramírez (1804–1871), a Mexican lawyer and politician, first director of the National Museum of Anthropology.

The afterlives of the culture of curiosity. The Cabinet Salvador in Barcelona, the Museum Bennati (Argentina), and collections in Le Mans Musée Vert (Maulny collection) will be used to study the transformation of former cabinets of curiosities in an era of scientific specialization. They will also be used to look at the afterlives of a kind of museum that supposedly went “extinct” in the 18th century. They will help us to articulate the discussion and understanding of the myriad of provincial and school museums that proliferated in the 19th century and still mimicked the cabinets of Early Modern Europe.

The trade in antiquities, bones, and casts

Trade theme deals with the economic dimension of natural history and anthropological collections and the interrelationship between commercial and scientific value. In the case of antiquities and palaeontology, we will analyse how what was considered rubbish/garbage was transformed into something valuable for both, scientist and the local people involved in collecting. We will focus on fossil bones and antiquities that circulated in the 19th century as objects of commerce and collecting as well as evidence of the new theories on the history of life and archaeology.

Fakes, duplicates, and casts. The demand for fossil bones and antiquities also triggered new activities linked to their replication. Fakes, casts, and duplicates, or fanciful reproductions, circulated in parallel with their originals. While casts and duplicates originated mostly from the museum workshops, fakes and forgeries invaded the market and were introduced into the collections. Today, those objects are kept in the museums, and there is a growing interest in analysing and tracing the fakes kept all over the world.

Preparation, conservation, fabrication, and new professions. The new trade in specimens and duplicates led to the development of new crafts and professions. Plant and seed preservation for long-distance travels, acclimatization techniques, taxidermy, all these activities related to collecting and trade will be analysed.

Skull collections: series, standardization, and instruments

This theme focuses on the tensions between the local and the global with regard to the standardization of measurements and instruments, and to the relevance of series vs individualization, the rare vs statistical “normality”. It raises the issues of community claims and repatriation.

Skulls series and anthropological theories. Skulls and casts series in different locations in Europe and Latin American will be traced in order to document the spread of anthropological theories, especially Lombroso’s criminal anthropology.

Paradigmatic skulls. The skulls of the brigand Villella (Turin) and Mariano Rosas (La Plata) will be used to discuss how provincial “communities” today claim for those skulls but also to analyse their history and incorporation into the collections. In that sense, they will serve to investigate the “peripheries in the periphery”.

Instruments and standardization. The circulation of the instruments accompanied that of the series of skulls and theories. The Mexican case will serve to understand how instruments conceived in Europe (in France especially, under the influence of Paul Broca and the Société d’anthropologie de Paris) were used and adapted in other contexts. From Mexico, they circulated on the American continent (for instance, in La Plata) illustrating the South–South connections occurring along the linguistic and cultural communities of German, Italian, and French anthropologist in the diaspora.

Applied science and collections

In recent years, natural history museums have been studied as stimulators but also results of economic activities in local, provincial, and imperial contexts. Conversely, pharmacy, horticulture, commerce, and industry generated their own collections either as an advertising device or in relation to knowledge and economic innovation. Models of fruits were produced as part of the forgotten discipline of pomology; botanical, zoological, and mineralogical collections were part of the teaching and practice of pharmacy; ethnographic artefacts were displayed in relation to commercial geography.

Today these collections are dispersed or fragmented according to contemporary disciplines. Their origins, past uses, and former connections are forgotten. Our goal is to re-establish lost connections thanks to archival and documentary research. Special emphasis will be put on the role of apothecaries. Before 1800, they gave chemistry classes with public demonstration in museum and gardens while pharmacies became models for the storage and display of “natural” objects and products. The multidisciplinary nature of apothecaries’ training undoubtedly explains their diverse interests and skills. Some directed museums of natural history in the metropolises and in the provinces, some turned their shops in semi-public museums, such as Salvador in Barcelona. All of them, through their high standards have left their mark on scientific research.

Medicinal plants and botany: herbaria and samples in pharmacy and commercial museums, botanical gardens, and natural history collections. Well-studied in the early modern period and connected to global history perspectives, the travels of medicinal plants continued in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some plants succeeded and other failed in their promotion as global remedies. The collections kept in the museums are the evidence of these attempts, some of them, completely forgotten.

Pest control and botany: the study of some collection of insects from La Plata, Bonn, Montevideo, and Paris will be use to display the fruitful possibilities of crossing disciplinary borders following the associations created by entomologists and botanists between plants and insects.

Pomology and collections of models: Members of the team will track the circulation of casts in provincial collections in relation to the promotion of fruit varieties. Such collections, often little known and poorly showcased, exist in Angers, Turin, and Barcelona.