© photo by Jeff Day

(2021-2022) Inverting the Wunderkammer

Digital Humanities Seed Grant Project

Project Title: Inverting the Wunderkammer: Rethinking the Digital Humanities Through Botanic Histories and Archives

Project Team: Ahmad Ansari, Elaine Ayers, Tega Brain, Laura Briscoe

Abstract: Focusing on the the nineteenth-century bryological Mitten Collection at the New York Botanical Garden, this project uses moss–one of the most commonplace and adaptive plants in the world–to explore how experimental digital imaging techniques and pluralistic storytelling might be applied to colonial botanical collections to open up ways to critically interrogate violent systems of classification and order. Intersecting the history of science, critical archival studies, and recent interventions into decolonizing design, this digital humanities project uses a specific set of sources (ranging from archival and manuscript materials to herbarium specimens) to ask how women, indigenous experts, and working-class collectors’ contributions to the history of botany have been subsumed and silenced in the service of natural historical “authorship”–in this case, by the British bryologist William Mitten (1819-1906). By engaging a multitude of stakeholders across various fields and levels of expertise, this public-facing project explores how reading moss from multiple perspectives can engender new systems of knowledge production crossing colonial natural history, museum and archival studies, and de-colonial design practices.