In the early stages of the interdisciplinary Rumphius project, I read Richard Sennett’s „The Craftsman“, and I underlined a paragraph in the editor’s foreword to Het Amboinsche Kruid-boek from 1741: „[…] this great Man was so skilled in this work, that at the time all sorts of Plants that were unknown to other people, were sent to him from the remotest parts of the Indies, even though he was already robbed of his vision and of the light of day. He could discover the leaves, fruits, or seeds from the smell, taste, shape, or other attributes, and assign them to their proper genus, which surely shows a most amazing knowledge and perspicacity.“ (translation E.M. Beekman) Now that the project publication is out in the world and other historians’ research in the near future might be limited to the digital sphere, I think of the archives, libraries and museums I was able to visit in person. It has been a privilege of access – of geography, of language, of affiliation, of funding – to take manuscripts and books and letters into my hands, to sit and think with paper ensembles, to perform the choreography of reading large folios. I remember the workers in the National Archives, The Hague, who guard the entry to the reading room and bring the boxes from the shelves, and I am drawn to a few lines from Esi Edugyan’s novel Washington Black: „But I will never forget the feeling of paper in my hands, those first months, rough, an unfamiliar thing, like compressed dust. The wonder of it. I would finger the pages, and out would come an abrupt, medicinal smell, like a package from an apothecary’s.“ Narrated by Wash, the enslaved boy on Barbados, who will become an illustrator and scientist in his own right.
Leuker, Maria, Esther Helena Arens und Charlotte Kießling. Rumphius’ Naturkunde. Zirkulation in kolonialen Wissensräumen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2020. Printed version 978-3-447-11358-8, E-book (pdf) 978-3-447-19957-5