University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > Tender curiosities: natural history and gendered knowledge-craft at country houses, counting houses, and Royal African Company factories

Tender curiosities: natural history and gendered knowledge-craft at country houses, counting houses, and Royal African Company factories

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  • UserElizabeth Yale (University of Iowa)
  • ClockMonday 29 November 2021, 13:00-14:00
  • HouseZoom.

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In Britain in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, households were key sites for developing scientific, medical, and other forms of learned knowledge. At the same time, Britons collected natural historical and medical know-how—and materials—as part of the trans-Atlantic trade in spices, sugar, luxury goods, and enslaved West African laborers. Yet how were households connected to Royal African Company ships, merchants’ offices, and coastal African slave factories in networks of knowledge and mercantile profit? One way, I argue, is through women’s paper keeping activities. In learned households, women recorded experimental results and observations; managed correspondence; archived and preserved papers; translated scientific texts; took and maintained reading notes; and edited, authenticated, and published scientific books. They generated records that transited between households and public institutions, between learned, medical, and mercantile users, accruing different kinds of value in different hands. In reading these records closely, we see how early modern Britons—both men and women—sought out and built on West African and indigenous Caribbean botanical and medical knowledge even while erasing enslaved and free Africans and indigenous people as knowers.

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

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