Interpersonal Botany

This exhibition explores the theme Interpersonal Print through five sections dealing with botany: “Networks of Correspondence”, “Societies and Periodicals”, “Domesticated Botany”, “Sentimental Botany”, and “Botanical Illustration”.

The first section delineates extensive “Networks of Correspondence” connecting botanists and natural scientists with explorers, gardeners, artists, apothecaries and dilettantes eager to participate in a global project to document and classify plants. Printed books circulated as exchange goods within these networks, alongside plant specimens, handwritten notes and drawings, enabling trained and amateur botanists to share findings and confer standard nomenclature for specimens from around the globe.

The section “Societies and Periodicals” features a selection of publications produced by the flourishing groups of amateur botanists and botanical societies . While the articles focus on the generation, accumulation and transmission of botanical knowledge, these periodicals likewise reveal the increasing popularity of this pursuit. Inexpensive to print and easy to circulate, they became sites of dynamic information exchange, establishing ties and reaffirming communities of botanists.

Books in the section “Domesticated Botany” focus on women, presenting the practice of botanical study as an “antidote to levity and idleness.” Recreating in print two intimate forms of communication – letters and dialogues – these books strategically combined these familiar models of social interaction with the popular fascination for plants to guide women to proper feminine and maternal conduct.

The section “Sentimental Botany” displays books with decorative floral-motif bindings and coloured plates of flowers, as well as books presenting a symbolic “language of flowers”, which could serve as gifts to express and affirm bonds of friendship. Moreover, albums or birthday books saturated with flower imagery show how the fashion for flowers infused ritualized expressions of affection .

In “Botanical Illustration”, the selected items highlight the unique relationships that formed between scientists, illustrators and engravers in the production of printed works that combined illustration with textual forms of scientific description.

Curated by Parvaneh Abbaspour, Graduate Student, McGill University and Martina Chumova, Graduate Student, Université de Montréal under the direction of Professor Tom Mole and Professor Nikola von Merveldt from the Interacting with Print research group, and with the collaboration of Rare Books and Special Collections.