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Collecting and curating at Rothschild's Zoological Museum

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  • UserElla Larsson (University of Westminster)
  • ClockMonday 24 May 2021, 13:00-14:00
  • HouseZoom.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Joanne Green.

Showing little aptitude for the family business of banking, Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868–1937) instead devoted himself to the creation of one of the largest private natural history collections the world had ever seen. A prolific collector during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Rothschild’s collection was kept within his purpose-built museum at Tring, Hertfordshire and contained some 2.5 million Lepidoptera, 300,000 bird skins, 300 dried reptiles and over 1400 mammal skins and skulls. These extensive research collections enabled Rothschild and his curators, Karl Jordan (1861–1959) and Ernst Hartert (1859–1933), to make a substantial contribution to the study of animal species and their distribution, while the display collections fascinated the museum’s many public visitors.

In this paper I will explore the logics and motivations which influenced the creation and curation of Rothschild’s zoological collection. I will begin with a discussion of what Rothschild acquired for his collections and of the judgement criteria which informed his collecting practices, demonstrating the ways in which those criteria differed depending on a specimens’ destination within the museum. I will then focus on the museum’s public galleries and examine the ways in which Rothschild’s scientific interests played out alongside his desire to inspire wonder, provoke aesthetic appreciation and convey personal stories about encounters with animals in the field, revealing the ways in which Rothschild’s museum straddled the boundary between a ‘public’ and a ‘private’ museum.

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

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