Humanistic Uses of Herbaria


Friday, March 19, 2021, 11:00am to 12:30pm


Virtual Webinar
This joint colloquium, hosted by the Humanities Institute, New York Botanical Garden, and Dumbarton Oaks in partnership with the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, focuses on the history and contemporary relevance of herbarium collections.
Herbaria, or collections of dried plants that usually include information about the place and time of their collection and the identity of the collector, have their roots in the sixteenth century and are of vital importance to the study and taxonomy of plants. Recently, they have acquired additional value as tools for tracking biodiversity loss or even as windows into past ecosystems. While their primary purpose is scientific, herbaria also have rich historical and even aesthetic dimensions.
This online webinar focuses on the history and contemporary relevance of herbarium collections. The webinar addresses the contemporary importance of herbaria to science and conservation, and explores humanistic angles by engaging with history, the history of the book, art history, and contemporary art, thus placing the discussion at the intersection of the arts and sciences. Four speakers give fifteen-minute presentations on various aspects related to the science and art of herbaria, with a spotlight on Barbara Thiers’s newly published book, Herbarium: The Quest to Preserve and Classify the World’s Plants.


Vanessa Sellers, host, Director of the Humanities Institute, NYBG: Welcome and Introduction

Barbara Thiers, Patricia K. Holmgren Director, William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, Vice President, and Curator of Bryophytes: “History of the Herbarium”

Pamela Soltis, Director of the Biodiversity Institute, University of Florida: “Herbaria as Arks of Evolutionary History and Foundations for Plant Conservation” 

Anatole Tchikine, Curator of Rare Books, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University, and Co-Investigator, Plant Humanities Initiative: “Books of Herbaria Specimens in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection”

Yota Batsaki, cohost, Executive Director, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University, and Principal Investigator, Plant Humanities Initiative: “The Apocalyptic Herbarium: Anselm Kiefer’s The Secret of the Ferns (2007)”