Throughout my undergraduate degree in English from Oxford, and my current M.St research projects, I have gravitated towards the activities of early scientists, and the ways in which new knowledge shaped both the reading and writing of literature during the seventeenth century.
I was introduced to this field through botany: the University of Oxford herbaria preserve early attempts to establish a stable system of botanical nomenclature prior to Linnaean classification. The chaos of 'synonymy'—that is, many names for the same species—threatened the relationship between language and nature. The central question that botanists must ask here (how do you assign the abstract category of 'species' to an individual plant using language? In other words, how do you capture essence via instance?) is a fundamental concern, too, of literature. The central question of my thesis is this: how did early attempts to stabilise botanical nomenclature affect the seventeenth-century reception of allegorical poetic landscapes, in which our potential misreading of 'nature' has a didactic literary purpose? How did Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), a student of botany and medicine as well as a poet, and John Evelyn (1620-1706), the early Royal Society's champion of gardening, read Edmund Spenser's epic poem, The Faerie Queene?
This thesis forms part of my broader interest in the locations of scientific learning (in particular the garden), and the practice of 'collecting' nature. The majority of my research involves looking closely at unexpectedly revealing resources, such as catalogues of natural historical objects, or indexical lists of names, in order to unearth, not only the practices of early science, but the ways in which these newly stripped back forms of recording knowledge retain traces of old problems and ideals.