Reputation in a box. Objects, communication and trust in late 18th-century botanical networks
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This paper examines how and why information moved or failed to move within transatlantic botanical networks in the late eighteenth century. It addresses the problem of how practitioners created relationships of trust, and the difficulties they faced in transferring reputations between national contexts. Eighteenth-century botany was characteristically cross-cultural, cosmopolitan and socially diverse, yet in the 1770s and 1780s the American Revolutionary Wars placed these attributes under strain. The paper analyses the British and French networks that surrounded the Philadelphian plant hunter William Young (1742–1785), to show how botanists and plant collectors created and maintained connections with each other, especially when separated by geographical and cultural distance. It highlights in particular the role played by commercial plant traders, and demonstrates how practitioners used objects to transmit social as well as scholarly information. The transnational circulation of information and knowledge in the Enlightenment was determined by culturally specific judgements about trust, confidence, communication and risk. Despite the prominent role played by material culture within these networks, scholars continued to place high value on face-to-face contact as a means of judging the trustworthiness and cooperation of their agents.
Easterby-Smith , S 2015 , ' Reputation in a box. Objects, communication and trust in late 18th-century botanical networks ' , History of Science , vol. 53 , no. 2 , pp. 180-208 . https://doi.org/10.1177/0073275315580961
History of Science
© The Author 2015. This work is made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the author created, accepted version manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0073275315580961
DescriptionResearch was supported by a Max Weber Fellowship at the European University Institute, and a Dibner Fellowship in the History of Science at the Huntington Library.
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