Geographies of botanical knowledge: the work of John Hutton Balfour 1845-1879
Morrow, Lorna Helen
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This thesis forms a contribution to the historical geography of botanical knowledge. It examines the writings, teaching and public engagement in botany of John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884), Regius Professor of Botany and Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) between 1845 and 1879. The thesis explores the methods and approaches used by Balfour to promote botany. It pays specific attention to his scientific correspondence, publications, teaching and pedagogical practices (including fieldwork) and to his role in promoting the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. The curriculum Balfour constructed covered the major aspects of nineteenth-century botanical knowledge: plant structure, morphology and classification as well as aspects then ‘on the fringes’ of becoming popular – plant physiology. In order to teach this curriculum, Balfour meticulously shaped scientific, pedagogic and social spaces into places of scientific production and discovery. Study of his published work, classroom, field sites and involvement with the public sphere together form the principal elements of this thesis. These are the central places and productive sites in which his botany was made. Balfour’s published work allowed him to develop theoretical aspects in his view of botany. For Balfour, writing was an occupation about which he cared deeply both in terms of its role in knowledge circulation but also from a personal perspective. His publication of texts suitable for several distinct audiences (while financially rewarding,) was also an excellent method of circulating botanical and religious knowledge, two topics he was passionate to promote. The classroom provided the setting for Balfour to teach through practical instruction. He employed sensory stimulating objects in order to encourage students to learn the skill of botanical identification and observation. The ‘field’, like the classroom, was also a site of practical instruction. Balfour’s construction of ‘the field’ was careful and deliberate. It was based on familiarity of location, experience of working in the field, and an extensive knowledge of the geographical distribution of plants in Scotland. Balfour’s engagement with the public was evident in his involvement with the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (BSE), and by lectures delivered to groups with the object of moral improvement through botany. The thesis situates Balfour’s work within recent literature on the historical geography of scientific knowledge, with particular attention to the importance of place and the sites of science’s making. In this way, Balfour’s work is illustrative of wider elements of the situated production, and variable dissemination, of scientific (botanical) knowledge.