Negotiating botanical collections

Dr Johann Preiss in Germany and Western Australia

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  • Published 20200804
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-50-4
  • Extent: 304pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IT IS NOT widely known that many Australian colonial natural history collections are represented in German museums and herbaria, nor that there are initiatives to transform these artefacts of colonial heritage and science back into objects from living cultures with living custodians and their own stories to tell.

Dr Johann August Ludwig Preiss (1811–1883) played a significant role in this evolving story as the first professional botanist to collect systematically in the Colony of Western Australia from 1838 to 1842. His collections of flora and fauna were pivotal in opening this globally significant region of biodiversity to the world – and he beat the British at their own game by bringing their new colony’s botanical wonder to scientists, nurserymen and gardeners in Europe. Despite his unusually long sojourn collecting in Western Australia, Preiss has been largely forgotten – unlike his contemporary, the naturalist and explorer Ludwig Leichhardt (1813–1848), well known for his work in northern and central Australia and his ill-­fated 1848 expedition to cross the continent; and the globally active science visionary Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), whose birth anniversaries were celebrated in Germany and Australia in 2013 and 2019 respectively. Preiss held no important posts in exploration, science or public office and left only a small selection of archived letters and some strangers’ impressions. So, we are left to speculate about the negative spaces between the known fragments of Preiss’s life and the agents – human and non-­human – of the worlds he moved through.

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