Current Fellow Elaine Ayers
Strange Beauty: Botanical Collecting, Preservation, and Display in the Victorian Tropics
Fellowship Dates: 8/15/17 – 6/15/18
Elaine Ayers is a doctoral candidate in the Program for the History of Science at Princeton University, where she works on the history of natural history, collecting, and gender and sexuality during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her dissertation, “Strange Beauty: Botanical Collecting, Preservation, and Display in the Victorian Tropics,” follows four types of plants that emerged as unusually disputed scientific objects, tracing their path from topical islands in the Indian Ocean to their place in boxes and glass cases aboard ships, and finally to their figuration as scientific objects in gardens, museums, and herbaria in Britain. Before coming to Princeton, Elaine received her B.A. in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, with a minor in African Studies, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has lectured at institutions like the Wagner Free Institute of Science (Philadelphia, PA) and has published in magazines like The Appendix and The Public Domain Review.
During her time as the 80/20 Fellow at the Linda Hall Library, Elaine will split her time between conducting dissertation research and curating a related exhibit—both online and physically constructed—on the changing social practices of eighteenth and nineteenth century botany. By examining how botanists observed, collected, illustrated, and described the natural world on islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, she will demonstrate why certain plants have occupied an uneasy space between art and science, sex and death, and imperial control and fears of tropical fecundity.