Chains of Custody, Oceans of Instability: The Precarious Logistics of the Natural History Trade
Journal of World History
A global trade in zoological specimens arose from the expansion of natural history collecting in the nineteenth century. This paper examines the precarious logistics faced by the trans-continental movement of these often-fragile specimens. Cycles of trans-shipment and oceanic passages, transfers along chains of custody, all threatened physical and informational loss. We investigate these challenges from the perspective of a major institution seeking to build an international collection through purchase and exchange from distant parts of the globe, notably the Australian Museum in Sydney. Appropriating the infrastructures of major commodity trades, drawing on modernizing shipping and communications technologies, and enlisting government support of public science all helped. Where failure nonetheless occurred, scientific networks in many cases provided the trust necessary to reach an agreeable resolution. In examining these conditions of the natural history trade during an earlier era of globalization, this study brings histories of science, trade, and logistics together in new ways.
Open Access Status
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Australian Research Council