Kew’s imperial archive: Cataloguing Economic Botany in the Miscellaneous Reports, 1841-1928
University of Roehampton, London
Year of enrolment: 2019
Dating largely from the period between 1841 and 1928, Kew’s Miscellaneous Reports are a diverse collection of hand-written letters, government reports, photographs, maps and drawings that chronicle the progress of botanic gardens and stations throughout the British colonies. The significance of this ‘imperial archive’ was recently recognized by the Wellcome Trust which awarded funding for the conservation and cataloguing of the collection. Working in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the University of Roehampton’s English and Creative Writing Department, this highly collaborative studentship involves the first comprehensive study of the Miscellaneous Reports as a distinct and unique collection. Building on my experience as Curator-Botanist of African specimens in the Kew herbarium, the studentship will focus on the African material in the collection, studying a rich and as yet untold narrative of Kew’s colonial operations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The project will follow a logical structure of three broad stages, reflecting the three core years of study. Working closely with the project archivist, the first year will establish a critical history of the material, aiming to understand the construction and use of the archive over time. Following this historical analysis, the second stage of the project will select specific volumes from the range of African material, producing focussed case studies that explore the diversity of human/plant relationships as well as the entanglement of imperial and indigenous knowledge. The final phase of research will address the collection as a political space and critique the current archival processes and consider the pressing issue of archival decolonisation. Responding to a wide variety of interdisciplinary studies, from biocolonialism to critical plant studies, this studentship presents a rare opportunity for humanities-based research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, offering huge potential for original engagements with this important and understudied collection.