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The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century

An exhibit of materials from the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection

The long eighteenth century saw widespread exploration and a tremendous increase in the traffic in botanical specimens. The goal of many imperial expeditions was to explore the natural resources of colonies and distant lands in search of potentially profitable plants and products. Plants arrived at major cities on board ships, and were grown in botanical gardens that were often state-funded. The plants were studied and cultivated, especially if they were perceived to have economic or medicinal value. The study of botany was facilitated by herbarium specimens and botanical illustrations, as well as by innovations in taxonomy that simplified the description of plants. 

This online exhibit was designed to accompany a symposium held at Dumbarton Oaks in October 2013. The symposium, "The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century," included a strong focus on botanical books and illustrations, and coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the Rare Book Reading Room at Dumbarton Oaks. The online exhibit and the on-site exhibit were curated by Jasmine Casart and Deirdre Moore (interns in summer 2013) and by Sarah Burke Cahalan (Special Projects & Reference Librarian). We aimed to explore some of the major themes of the symposium while also promoting the holdings of the Rare Book Collection. The Dumbarton Oaks rare book holdings are particularly strong in the areas of garden history and early texts about the Americas, strengths that are reflected in the exhibit's coverage.

 

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