Published in Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 10, Issue 3, Fall October 1, 2012, pages 503-539.
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The ocean was frequently as hostile an environment for plants and animals as it was for humankind in the eighteenth century. Existing methods of preserving the plants, fish, birds, and land animals that provided the raw materials for European science increasingly proved insufficient for the often long voyages that brought them from colonial and indigenous collectors; specimens arrived dead when they were needed alive, rotten and damaged when they were needed whole, and they frequently suffered as they encountered negligent and uninterested sailors, and rats and other shipboard pests that showed too much interest. This paper examines strategies of specimen transport adopted by French and British naturalists in the Atlantic world during the first half of the eighteenth century, arguing for the importance of maritime spaces that have often been overlooked in histories of the expanding reach of European science. Atlantic networks of specimen transport were simultaneously distinctly national and endlessly entangled. Efforts to discipline maritime social environments diverged along distinctly national lines, influenced by larger patterns of scientific sociability in both Britain and France. At the same time, however, naturalists drew on a cadre of common practices when they packed and preserved specimens for transport. The study of specimen transport demonstrates the geographic expanse of the centripetal and centrifugal tendencies at work more generally in eighteenth-century science; these forces simultaneously strengthened national scientific cultures and supported a cosmopolitan network of naturalists who communicated specimens and the methods for making them throughout Europe and the wider world.
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