Caroline Cornish, Research Fellow
Mobile Museum Research Project
Department of Geography
Royal Holloway, University of London
Topic: The Mobile Museum: Harvard, Kew Gardens and Economic Botany in Motion
In 1847 botanist William Hooker opened the world’s first Museum of Economic Botany at Kew Gardens, England. Its purpose, according to its founder, was to show “all kinds of useful and curious Vegetable Products.” The museum was a popular success and through Hooker’s extensive use of social and institutional networks, the collections grew such that three further museum buildings were opened in 1857, 1863 and 1910.
One of Hooker’s long-standing correspondents was fellow botanist Asa Gray, who had arrived at Harvard in 1842. In 1858 he wrote his mentor, William Hooker, announcing that, “in humble imitation of Kew, I am going to establish a Museum of Vegetable Products in our University.” There ensued an intense series of exchanges of museum objects between the two institutions.
Through the lens of the two museums, this talk will explore the nature of Kew-Harvard relations in the 19th century and ask the question: what is achieved when museum objects change hands?
© RBG Kew