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The circulation of naturalistic knowledge in Modern Europe (1500-1850): a micro analytical perspective

Final Report Summary - CIRCKNOW (The circulation of naturalistic knowledge in Modern Europe (1500-1850): a micro analytical perspective)

Project CIRCKNOW (‘The Circulation of Naturalistic Knowledge in Modern Europe [1500-1800]: a micro analytical perspective) combined the expertise of Dr Raffaella Bruzzone (Marie Curie Intra-European Fellow) and established academics and scholars in the School of Geography (Professor Charles Watkins) and Department of History (Dr Ross Balzaretti) at the University of Nottingham, UK. Drawing on the combined experience in research in naturalistic knowledge in NW Italy cultivated by the IEF in an interdisciplinary research environment at the University of Genoa with the established expertise in Anglo-Italian cultural-historical geography and environmental-landscape history at the host institution, CIRCKNOW sought to develop new tools and techniques for a better understanding of naturalistic cultural heritage - defined by the project as the botanical and scientific knowledge of past geographies and environments - through the micro analytical approaches to insights from cultural history, landscape history and the history of science. This work brings these disciplines together to contribute to the development of new methodological approaches that analyse the circulation of naturalistic knowledge through a micro-historical lens, examining the objects (herbals, archival documents etc.) in detail, considering where they were produced, in which context (landscape, archives, people) and with which purposes. The greater clarity resulting from approaching the sources within this frame of focus will reduce the possibility for distortions when viewed in tandem with other case studies.

The objectives of CIRCKNOW were to (i) to integrate micro-historical approaches and ethnobotanical analysis through the combination of new theories, methods and techniques from geographical and historical research as a methodological approach; (ii) to explore and validate micro-historical and ethnobotanical approaches through a series of case studies based on the results of archival research based on the adoption of multidisciplinary approaches and methodologies and the combination of a number of different perspectives; (iii) to extrapolate differences between central and peripheral locations (high/low culture) not only in regards to the production of artwork pieces but also in concerning the circulation of naturalistic sources and their knowledge and understanding; (iv) to collect, compare and contrast data and insights about cross-cultural naturalistic cultural heritage linking Italy and England and ethnobotanical comprehension of what remains today (or in the XX c.).

In order to achieve these objectives, project CIRCKNOW drew on a number of temporally and spatially specific case-studies, in which the botanical insights derived and developed by English scientists and travellers were compared and contrasted with those of contemporary Italian scholars and inhabitants. In particular, these case studies involved the micro geohistorical analysis of four principle sources that whilst published and produced in both England and Italy concern the same areas of Liguria (NW Italy) during the early-modern period; namely (i) a sixteenth-century anonymous herbal manuscript produced in the east Ligurian Apennines and conserved at the Museo Contadino di Cassego, (ii) a herbal manuscript produced by Italian artist/botanist Gherardo Cibo (1512-1600) conserved at the British Museum (BL:Add.22.332-Add.22.333) (iii) the herbarium collected by John Ray (1627-1705) in Liguria and Tuscany partially housed at the Natural History Museum (London) and his published work Observations topographical [...] in a journey through part of the Low Countries, Germany, Italy and France (1673), and finally (iv) the botanical manuscripts, scientific field notebooks and ‘Book of Games’ produced by Francis Willughby (1635-1672) during and following his travels in Italy housed in the Middleton Collection (Mi LM) at the University of Nottingham and the nearby Wollaton Hall, the ancestral seat of his gentry family in the British East Midlands.

The example of one of several site-specific research case study typifies the approach to these historical botanical sources and the results derived. Through drawing on these sources, primarily those produced by Ray and Willughby, research explored how approaches derived from historical ecology can show how knowledge can be gained about the historical and cultural value of a specific site, such as a neglected urban landscape in the city of Genoa. In studying this site around Genoa’s once iconic albeit now somewhat neglected lighthouse, interdisciplinary, micro analytical approaches to these sources and sites considered the long-term survival of individual plant species and various implications for the conservation of this particular landscape of considerable historical interest. In examining the topographical representations of the site over the last 500 years, it was possible to establish the landscape context of the lighthouse, before analysis of the seventeenth-century plant records collected by the English naturalists that demonstrated how the plants were identified and documented, the ongoing presence of many species identified in 1664 highlighting how the exploration of botanical ancestry at a local scale makes it possible to demonstrate the cultural–historical values of this specific-site and that, as such, the rocks and plants themselves should be considered as part of the cultural heritage of the city of Genoa (Bruzzone, R., Watkins, C., Balzaretti, R., and Montanari, C. (2017) Botanical relics of a lost landscape: herborising ‘upon the Cliffs about the Pharos’ in Genoa, March 1664. Landscape Research, 1-17).

Whilst this example highlights the findings derived from researches (archival, iconographical and field sources) on a specific-site, the example of Aristolochia rotunda L. focuses on a specific-floral species, collected in the Val di Vara in the 1950’s and still in the Valley today but in different habitats and collected by many botanists during the XIX-XX centuries. This case-study underlines the importance of iconographical, archival and oral sources in the historical geography and historical ecology of areas of interest for the history of landscapes. Whilst these principal works and collections formed the bedrock of the investigations, these sources were examined alongside other manuscripts and documents concerning the same spatial and temporary contexts. Furthermore, spatially/specific investigations concerning key locations in the aforementioned sources were explored across a wider time-frame by way of consultation with later botanical and naturalistic archival documents, iconographical manuscripts, published works and collected herbaria produced by Italian ‘local’ botanical-scientific scholars; such as Clelia Durazzo (1760-1830)[Museo di Storia Naturale “G. Doria”, Genoa], Domenico Viviani (1772-1840) [Universita degli Studi di Genova / Archivio di Stato di Genova], Antonio Bertoloni (1775-1869) [Erbario e Museo Botanico dell’Universita’ di Bologna/ BTM library, Universita degli Studi di Genova), Giuseppe De Notaris (1807-1877) [BTM library, Universita’ degli Studi di Genova/ Museo di Storia Naturale “G. Doria”, Genoa], Giovanni Casaretto (1810-1879) [Universita’ degli Studi di Genova/Societa’ Economica di Chiavari/ Private Archive], Otto Penzig (1856-1929) [BTM library, Universita’ degli Studi di Genova] and those of the English polymath Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) [Museo Bicknell, Bordighera / Universita degli Studi di Genova / Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge/ Bicknell family archive, UK) whose collections and work are currently forming part of an on going research project grant application (ERC) with academics from the University of Genoa, the University of Turin and the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.