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Robbert Striekwold MSc

PhD candidate


Collection Building: Ichthyology in the Netherlands During the Nineteenth Century

Leiden University
Project: A New History of Fishes: A Long-Term Approach to Fishes in Science and Culture, 1550-1880
Promotor(es): Prof. dr. Paul Smith, Dr Martien van Oijen, Prof. dr. Menno Schilthuizen
Aanstelling: vanaf september 2016

My project is concerned with the development of Dutch 19th century ichthyology (the study of fishes), as part of a larger NWO-funded project called “a new history of fishes: a long-term approach to fishes in science and culture, 1550-1880”. I look at three fish collections that came to the National Natural History Museum in Leiden (the RMNH, now Naturalis) in the period 1820-1880. These are the collections of Kuhl & van Hasselt, two naturalists who spent time on Java under the auspices of the “Natuurkundige Commissie” of the East-Indies; that of Philipp Franz von Siebold, whose studies of Japanese animals led to his famous Fauna Japonica; and of Pieter Bleeker, a Dutch army surgeon stationed in the East-Indies, who collected and described fishes from all over the Southeast Asian archipelago.
Approximately half the project is concerned with ichthyological publications produced at the RMNH based on these collections. I mainly look at the way in which they deal with systems of classification, and how text and image interact. For instance, halfway through the nineteenth century images in natural history texts often functioned as substitutes for the most valuable museum specimens, thus greatly reducing the need for naturalists to physically manipulate them. In order to do this, the images had to emphasize all characteristics of animals that were relevant for naturalists to properly study them. This part of the project is fairly straightforward methodologically, and chiefly relies on detailed analysis and comparison of natural history publications.
The other half of the project is more oriented towards the practice of collecting in the broadest sense. That is, I aim to sketch the trajectory of the collection of objects from the formation of collecting policies by the government and the RMNH to the actual acquisition of the fishes and their preservation and transport to the museum. This will at times no doubt require rather broad strokes, lest the project explode in size beyond manageable proportions. I’ve only just started working on this bit, and the methodology is far from clear at this point. The policy aspect is fairly straightforward however, and involves the study of correspondences between the government, museum, and collectors, and the museum’s year reports.
In the end, I hope to be able to say something sensible about the ways in which collecting activities influenced natural history publications, and vice versa, in the context of 19th century ichthyology.