History Department Colloquium Series Begins Nov. 12

Heather Morrison

Heather Morrison

Associate Professor Heather Morrison’s talk, “The Emperor’s New Plants: The Limits of Imperial Power in an Eighteenth Century Botanical Expedition,” will kick off a new History Department colloquium series, which will feature talks by department members on research in progress. The first talk will be held Wednesday, Nov. 12 from 2-3 p.m. in Jacobson Faculty Tower 1010.

The colloquium is not a series of lectures, but rather group discussions of unpublished works such as the paper by Morrison, who is writing a book on an Austrian botanical expedition in the Age of Enlightenment.

Colloquium papers will circulate beforehand. All are welcome, but participants should read the essay in advance. To receive a copy of the essay, please contact History Department Chair Andy Evans at evansa@newpaltz.edu.

Below is a description of Morrison’s paper:

Towards the beginning of Joseph II’s sole rule in the 1780s, an unfortunate greenhouse disaster ruined much of the exotic plant collection for the palace of Schönbrunn. The Emperor was in the midst of internal reforms and cost-cutting and had little interest in financing a large-scale scientific endeavor, yet an emperor in the eighteenth century must have his plants. The court chose five men with background in the theoretical knowledge of the natural sciences or practical experience with collecting or drawing plants, outfitted them, and sent them off with detailed instructions and elaborate financial arrangements to journey to the “four other parts of the world.” Things did not work as minutely planned. The five managed to make it to North America after months of waiting in the Netherlands, and then the expedition divided and collapsed in the face of personal divisions, financial problems, and large-scale destruction of living plants and animals. Imperial patronage for a scientific expedition was expected to produce an increase in the Empire’s prestige through both the expansion of its collections in the gardens, menagerie, and natural history cabinet and its ability to support a grand international scientific endeavor. This paper will explore how the structure of the Habsburg Monarchy’s internal and international power led to some of the organizational failures of their Imperial Expedition.


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