Simon Werrett: "Joseph Banks and the Social Technologies of Imperial Knowledge"

  • Date: –15:00
  • Location: Engelska parken - The Rausing Room
  • Organiser: Department of History of Science and Ideas
  • Contact person: H. Otto Sibum
  • Seminarium

Office for History of Science Seminar

Simon Werrett, UCL London: "Joseph Banks and the Social Technologies of Imperial Knowledge"

The naturalist Joseph Banks has been identified as one of the most prominent “centers of calculation” in the age of Georgian science. From his home in Soho Square, London, Banks presided over a “Banksian empire” of institutions, scholars, and explorers who traversed the globe in search of new scientific knowledge and specimens. This picture of Banks has been challenged recently by a number of scholars involved with an AHRC-funded project to reassess Bank’s career. In this paper, I shall survey some of these new perspectives on Banks and suggest that while Banks undoubtedly presided over numerous influential institutions, he was less a global agent with an imperial agenda for science than a expert facilitator or connector, whose access to a multitude of communities interested in his patronage, collections, and knowledge enabled him to recommend collaborators and supporters for a great diversity of projects. Banks depended, furthermore, on a host of material technologies, paper tools, and an assortment of male and female experts and networks to enable these projects. Georgian science, then, appears less as an emerging imperial bureacracy of science than a loosely-configured but evidently effective social technology for making global knowledge.