University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > The natural history of the Napoleonic Wars: collecting at the East India Company c. 1798ā€“1820

The natural history of the Napoleonic Wars: collecting at the East India Company c. 1798ā€“1820

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At the turn of the nineteenth century, at its headquarters in the City of London, the East India Company established a new museum. By mid-century, the museum at India House had grown to contain one of Europe’s most extensive collections of the natural history, arts and sciences of Asia. This talk uses the museum’s early natural history collections to explore the material relationship between scientific practice and imperial conflict. I will first describe some of the ways in which the Asian theatres of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars would shape the scope and scale of the East India Company’s collections. I will then consider one particular case: the British invasion of Dutch Java (1811) the collecting activities of Thomas Horsfield and Stamford Raffles, and the uses to which those Javanese collections were put. Such cases raise the question of how and why the practices of war came to encompass natural history surveys during this period. I will conclude by offering a few tentative answers to that question.

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

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