"Are you ready now, mamma, to read a description of the Houseleek?"
Sarah Fitton, Conversations on Botany, 1820
How did people use print to structure and mediate their social relationships in Europe between 1700 and 1900? This exhibition offers some answers by presenting objects that document a range of interpersonal practices in the field of botany.
Against the backdrop of a global quest for botanical specimens and a popular preoccupation for botany, printed matter functioned in various ways to foster relationships between individuals. Both within familial settings and intellectual networks, across national boundaries, or among circles of friends, reading, studying, gifting, and producing printed matter established, reinforced, and even modeled relationships between distant strangers and close companions.
This exhibition, entitled Interpersonal Botany, puts on display a variety of materials – books, but also periodicals, letters, friendship albums and birthday books, to name but a few examples. They may demonstrate friendly, intimate exchange, act as guides for proper female conduct or enable the pursuit of scientific investigation. The rare items selected for this exhibit offer a view of the diverse social dimensions of botanical printed matter, suggesting they were something more than simply items to be read in a solitary fashion; rather they served as ways of creating community, forming bonds, and sharing information between colleagues and friends.