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Students, tourists and farmers: the publics of botanic gardens in the 18th century

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This talk will look at the visitors of publicly funded botanic gardens in Edinburgh, Florence and Pisa in the second half of the 18th century. Taken together, those three cities hosted five publicly funded botanic gardens. Botanic gardens were originally created to teach botany to university students. However, by the 18th century, the audience for botanic gardens in general had diversified. This paper will show the diversity of the publics of botanic gardens. Botany had become a popular hobby for the elite. Botanic gardens were recognised as important attractions for tourists going on their Grand Tour in Italy. Even the lower classes of society were now invited to wander around the gardens.

Only two of the gardens studied here were university gardens, two were managed by learned societies, and the last one belonged to a museum of natural history. Each of them had different target audiences and different rules about access. This paper will analyse the rules and testimonies about visitors of the gardens to understand what people wanted when they visited a botanic garden as well as what the institutions themselves wanted from their audience. Ultimately it will argue that the gardens’ relationship to the public was an important part of what defines them as ‘spaces of knowledge’.

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

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