Decolonising the Sloane Herbarium
The project will investigate a foundation collection of the Natural History Museum (NHM) to re-imagine our understanding of its global and imperial dimensions. The Sloane Herbarium was created between c.1680–1753 by the de facto founder of NHM, Sir Hans Sloane, and comprises around 120,000 dried plants mounted in 265 folio volumes. The specimens come from over 70 countries and dependencies, having been contributed by upwards of 300 individuals. Many of these collectors operated within commercial and political enterprises immersed within nascent British imperialism, including the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, but these historical entanglements have never been comprehensively mapped and analysed. NHM has begun to recognise the importance of these histories to re-frame its collections for contemporary audiences, but lacks the informational means to answer even simple questions such as what proportion of its foundation collections were acquired as a function of the slave trade. This project will leverage existing institutional data, enriched with new archival research, to address this shortcoming. It will surface hitherto hidden histories of the Sloane Herbarium, generate a new database for future generations of researchers to exploit, and inform ongoing institutional conversations at NHM about provenance, collections datasets, and decolonisation.