Call for Papers

Exploring Empire: Sir Joseph Banks, India, and the ‘Great Pacific Ocean’: Science, Travel, Trade, Literature, and Culture, 1768–1820

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (London), 24-25 June 2011

Proposals due 1 November 2010

Plenary speakers: Professor Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge) and Dr Jeremy Coote (Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford)

Sir Joshua Reynolds, 'Sir Joseph Banks', oil on canvas, 1771-1773, National Portrait Gallery, UK.

In 1768, Sir Joseph Banks sailed around the world with Captain Cook and in doing so inaugurated a new era in British exploration, empire and science. As a botanist, man of science, adviser of the monarch and of ministers, and as President of the Royal Society, Banks became a central figure in the expansion in discovery and settlement that took place in the Indo-Pacific region from 1768 to 1820. Through his correspondence with fellow men of science and with government agents, Banks promoted the exchange of knowledge about flora, fauna and human cultures new to Europeans. He was a prime mover in the development of natural philosophy, ethnology, collecting and its global organization, travel and exploration, the publication and illustration of natural history and other mission findings, the development of knowledge within the eighteenth-century Republic of Letters, imperial policy making and the practical uses of science by the state. He planned, for instance, the colonization of Australia and shaped the extension of British imperial influence through India and Polynesia. His activities brought Britons into contact with peoples, countries, plants and animals previously unknown to them, and this contact had major effects on indigenous societies and ecosystems. It also stimulated major cultural interest at home, and this is apparent in the new, Romantic, turn in literature and visual art, whether in Shelley’s Frankenstein, Byron’s The Island, Southey’s The Curse of Kehama and in the paintings of Pacific mission artists Hodges and Westall.

The aim of this two-day conference is to bring together scholars from different disciplines, e.g. historians of science, ethnologists, natural historians (botany & zoology), curators, museologists, literary critics, geographers, students of local history, colonial critics and others interested in the cultures of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Britain, India and the Pacific. The conference has as its centre Sir Joseph Banks but it also aims more broadly to present critical work in a range of areas. Submissions for 20-minute papers are invited on such subjects as:

  • the history of exploration and of colonial settlement e.g. in Australasia, the South Pacific, India, the NW coast of America, the Poles, and its impact in Britain itself on culture and imperial policy making and science
  • the development of colonialism as a system (for instance, the application to a global network of forms of administration, control and trade, eg the East India Company)
  • navigational science, geography and cartography eg. technical development and methods, instrument makers, timekeepers, maps and mapmakers, surveys and charts, growth of geographical knowledge and maritime empire
  • the cultural impact of the exploration and settlement of previously-unknown regions (e.g. in verbal and visual representations: art, theatre, poetry and fiction, journalism, travel writing; and vis-à-vis Orientalism, Omai, Tahiti and India)
  • agricultural improvement at home and in the colonies (e.g. Captain Bligh and the breadfruit scheme, the import and export of crops and livestock, the Royal Society of Arts)
  • natural philosophy in Britain and abroad (e.g. plant exchange, imperial botany, zoological exploration and discovery, geological mapping, navigation, astronomy, the Royal Society, Kew Gardens, Hooker)
  • collections, e.g. of objects and observations: the role of collections, natural history, ethnological, anthropological and documented, their organization and interpretation, and their role in knowledge-production and staging empire
  • the late eighteenth-century gentry as a class
  • local history: the relationship of antiquarian study to the practice of natural philosophy in the empire
  • the exchange and cultural meanings of technologies and objects

Abstracts of no more than 200 words should be ccd both to and, by 1 November 2010.

Convenors: Neil Chambers, Sir Joseph Banks Archive, Nottingham Trent University, Tim Fulford, Dept ELH, Nottingham Trent University.