Economic botany at Kew – background
The Museum of Economic Botany at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was originally established in 1847 as a public repository for ‘all kinds of useful and curious Vegetable Products, which neither the living plants of the Garden nor the specimens in the Herbarium could exhibit’.
Reflecting Kew’s global networks of science, empire and commerce, the collection expanded rapidly in the 19th and 20th centuries, playing an important role in the construction of botanical knowledge.
Today Kew’s Economic Botany Collection consists of over 95,000 objects, housed in a purpose-built research store. The diversity of this collection makes it truly unique: for example, seeds of Brassica nigra from Ethiopia are found alongside a cassava sieve made by the Ingarikó people of Amazonia, and walking-sticks produced in the City of London.
Transcending the purely botanical or the purely cultural, it is best described as a ‘biocultural’ collection, and it is of growing interest to scholars and researchers in a wide range of disciplines from ethnobotany to design history, as well as to diverse communities and museum curators worldwide. Find out more
Mobile Museum project: a collaboration between Kew and Royal Holloway, University of London
The Mobile Museum project will examine the circulation of objects into and out of the Kew Museum between 1847 and the end of the 20th century. Museum collections founded at this time were designed to be useful – scientifically, pedagogically, and commercially. They made valuable contributions to the creation of new knowledge both by acquiring and displaying specimens and artefacts, and re-circulating them.
Contact Dr Mark Nesbitt , Curator, Economic Botany Collection M.Nesbitt@kew.org
Interested in botanical heritage? Come along to our visit to the Hans Sloane Herbarium and discussion on botanical heritage in December. Find out more and book.