Ileri, Nurçin

Objects of Nature and Scientific Knowledge on the Move: The Robert College Natural History Museum in Istanbul

This article focuses on the history of the Robert College’s Natural History Museum composed of geological, zoological, and botanical specimens from the 1860s to the 1940s. It is an attempt to re-establish the lost connections -the origins, past uses, and actors- about the college museum which does not physically exist today and whose scientific collections and archival sources have been scattered across different institutions and cities. Housing natural objects of botany, zoology and geology that spanned geological eras, political entities, nations, and cultures, from all over the world including Asia Minor, China, Brazil, France, etc., the college museum revealed an interactive network in scientific knowledge production and expertise transfer. The experiences of the museum’s scientific actors, varying from American educators to Ottoman-Armenian botanist, from a Russian-French biologist to a Hungarian entomologist, revealed the entangled history of knowledge production and expertise transfer and challenged the premise of the “centre” producing science and the “periphery” embracing and consuming it or the latter’s reliance on the former. Not only scientific actors but also non-scientific actors such as British diplomats or Istanbul Levantine tradespeople engaged with the college museum’s expansion. Moreover, as a significant work of art and labour, this museum attracted and impressed many local and international visitors/tourists. It displayed the unique properties of specimens removing them from the realm of the curious and served as a scientific and cultural venue where local and global natural objects and knowledge, as well as people interacted.

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