Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities Research Seminar Series

Banks' Florilegium: Art, Science, and Colonialism

Associate Professor Anna JohnstonThe delicately etched, full-colour prints of botanical specimens that Joseph Banks brought back to England from Lieutenant James Cook’s 1768 Endeavour voyage were finally and most comprehensively published in the 1980s Alecto Historical Edition. The plates are exquisitely beautiful; they are also, of course, dense with embedded knowledge. The brief family names of collectors reads like a who’s who of European science and inquiry: the intimately connected worlds of colonial collectors and imperial science are embedded in each plate. In these images, science, technology, and art coalesce to produce objects of great aesthetic value. Yet if these prints are densely coded with some kinds of information, they are also marked by notable silences that raise important questions. For example, we might ask about the people who were encountered alongside plant life in these new spaces for European exploration, especially the Pacific. How can we better understand how these botanical specimens existed within over-lapping worlds, with multiple naming systems, and a variety of different claims as to their use and value? How did encounters with or observations of indigenous people influence the selection and preservation of species, and how do we account for indigenous knowledge and its influence on imperial science and high art production? This paper considers what an exhibition of the Florilegium might look like that sought to reconstruct the rich cross-cultural context of its original collection, that sought to expand what John Gascoigne calls “the limits of scientific cosmopolitanism” (Science in the Service of Empire).

Anna Johnston is Associate Professor of English Literature in the School of Communication and Arts, and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. Her recent books include Travelling Home, Walkabout Magazine and Mid-Twentieth-Century Australia with Mitchell Rolls (2016) and The Paper War: Morality, Print Culture, and Power in Colonial New South Wales (2011).

4.00pm Thursday 7 September 2017
Seminar Room, Level 4, Forgan Smith Tower

The University of Queensland

For further information, please contact or 07 334 59492.

All welcome.


Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower, University of Queensland, St Lucia