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Collecting natural history: Sloane's 'Vegetable Substances'

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The ‘Vegetable Substances’ collection forms part of the surviving botanical material collected by Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) between the 1680s and 1740s, and now housed in the Natural History Museum in London. Its corresponding catalogue lists 12,523 ‘Vegetables’ and the names of over 300 people who contributed to this collection from around the world. Broadly, I am interested in how this collection was involved in the production and exchange of natural knowledge. In this paper I will use my catalogue-based research and work on Sloane’s manuscripts to give an overview of the collection and then explore some of the major contributors to the ‘Vegetable Substances’ in detail. Whether they directly sent things from abroad or acted as conduits for plant specimens, the type and utility of such material are viewed in the contexts of their complex networks, showing how Sloane collected, boxed, and preserved natural history.

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

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