Placing nature: natural history collections and their owners in nineteenth-century provincial England
The cultural history of museums is crucial to the understanding of nineteenth-century natural history and its place in wider society, and yet although many of the larger metropolitan institutions are well charted, there remains very little accessible work on the hundreds of English collections outside London and the ancient universities. Natural history museums have been studied as part of the imperial project and as instruments of national governments; this paper presents an intermediary level of control, examining the various individuals and institutions who owned and managed museums at a local level in provincial England, and their intended audience constituencies. The shifting forms and functions of collections in Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester are studied in the hands of private collectors, learned societies, municipal authorities and civic colleges. I argue that the civic elite retained control of museums throughout the nineteenth century, and although the admission criteria of these various groups became ostensibly more inclusive, privileged access continued to be granted to expert and esteemed visitors.
1 I would like to thank David Allen, Sophie Forgan and John Pickstone for their unstinting comments and suggestions, and two anonymous referees for helpful criticism. I was given invaluable support and hospitality by Derek Whiteley, Kim Streets and Paul Richards at Sheffield City Museums; by June Holmes at the Natural History Society of Northumbria; and by Tristram Besterman and the staff of the Manchester Museum. Versions of this paper were delivered in Cambridge, Durham and Manchester, and I am grateful for helpful advice from audiences. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Wellcome Trust and the Vice-Chancellor's Development Fund at Manchester University.