Understanding plants and traditional wisdom : appropriation and representation of native knowledge through the ethnobotanical collecting of Richard Evans Schultes in Northwestern Amazon for the Harvard Botanical Museum
Regarding the Amazon environment as a complex world defined by the interaction of natural and human elements, the aim of this thesis is to present the intellectual framework that characterized the ethnobotanical collecting of Richard Evans Schultest for the Harvard Botanical Museum. The thesis contextualizes the case study as part of the scientific drive of natural history museums from the nineteenth-century onwards, and focuses in the mid twentieth-century in regard to the specific collection and fieldwork. The issue of appropriation refers to the assumed role of museums, as Western institutions, of collecting, describing, and classifying the natural plant kingdom. Appropriation also refers to the assimilation, through scientific endeavors, of plants and knowledge that are significant to other cultures’ views of their natural and social environment. The issue of representation deals with showcasing natural and ethnographic collections in museums as non-contested, self-explanatory identities of other peoples’ culture through the mediation of a neutral observer’s standpoint and different museum practices. The thesis touches upon the role of study collections in a university museum setting to further knowledge for science. In particular, the Economic Botany Collection was intended to further the understanding of psychoactive plants used by traditional cultures for medicinal purposes. The outcome was quite complex, and the influence of this surveying effort still stands as one of the most compelling studies any museum has engaged with in the twentieth-century.
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