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The World in a Book: Robert John Thornton’s Temple of Flora (1797–1812)

Miranda Mollendorf, Harvard University, Junior Fellow 2011–2012, Spring

Generous support from Dumbarton Oaks enabled me to make progress toward my dissertation, which I will be able to complete in 2013. I finished the third chapter of my dissertation, “Transience, Time, and Territory: The Changing States of Prints in Robert John Thornton’s Temple of Flora.” It was a genuine pleasure to view the copy of Thornton’s Flora at Dumbarton Oaks. Each one of these books is a rare treasure, and no two copies are the same, which is the subject of my third chapter. I presented versions of this chapter in a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in a class taught by Professor Mark Laird. I also presented it at the Harvard-Yale Conference in Book History in 2012. The History of Science Society recently accepted another paper based on my research at Dumbarton Oaks entitled “Beneath the Skin of Flora: Dissecting the Beauties of the Vegetable Race.” This paper investigates the common ground between plant and human dissection and their epistemic underpinnings.

I visited the library, collections, and gardens almost every day at Dumbarton Oaks, and I discovered many materials in the collection that greatly assisted me with my project. To cite just one example, viewing the gouaches by Clara Maria Pope for Samuel Curtis’s Beauties of Flora added another dimension to my research. Curtis creatively appropriated many elements from Thornton’s book. It was fascinating to see how others used his work, and Curtis’s work is very rare and difficult to find.