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The upland exchange: village life in natural history, 1771–1832

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Olin Moctezuma.

This talk centres the mountain village of Muggendorf (Germany) in the history of natural history. It traces the guiding and collecting enterprise of the family Wunder over three generations, alongside corresponding generations of naturalists who came ‘like pilgrims’ each spring after the snows had melted. Wainwrights by trade, the Wunders first turned to natural history as a source of supplemental income in 1771, the ‘Year of Hunger’. For over a half-century, their cabinet supplied collections in Erlangen and Bayreuth with rare plants and fossils, like the antediluvial megafauna that drew the likes of Buckland and Cuvier to Muggendorf. While the market for natural trade and travel came from distant courts and university towns, traditional centres of science, the enterprise itself – the labour, infrastructure, and organization – came from a marginal upland community. There, the combination of learned interests and rural economy produced something altogether new: an upland exchange in knowledge and naturalia that gave form to natural science ca. 1800, in herbaria and geo-theory. I am especially interested in deploying working-class history perspectives (about inter-household collaboration, for instance, and artisanal notions of honour) to understand how the Wunders were not simply discovered by Romantic visitors but active in promoting a commerce of scientific goods and services. I close by suggesting the Wunders belong to a larger social group in the history of science: across (and surely beyond) central Europe, highland families employed everyday working practices in natural inquiry, revealing the extent to which natural inquiry was itself embedded in the everyday.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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