Chapter

“The Struggle for Luxuriance”: William Burchell Collects Tropical Nature

Luciana Martins and Felix Driver

in Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2005 | ISBN: 9780226164717
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226164700 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226164700.003.0004
“The Struggle for Luxuriance”: William Burchell Collects Tropical Nature

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This chapter focuses on Burchell's attempt to capture the pattern of a tropical nature—not only in his collections of natural objects such as plants and animals but also in his creation of proxy specimens in the form of precise calibrated drawings. For Burchell, as for Humboldt, the art of visual representation—the depiction of nature's forms—was a vital tool of scientific description. The chapter is concerned with the practices of naturalists and collectors in the field on particular sites. The focus here is on the ways in which images of tropical nature may reflect or translate the experience of collecting and its disappointments as well as its successes. It is based on the account of William Burchell's travels in Brazil and his graphic depictions of the forms of tropical nature. While ostensibly a more independent traveler with access to a variety of resources to sustain him in the course of his journeys as well as on his return, Burchell too was far from in control of his own collections. The focus in this chapter is especially on Burchell's cultivation of a new sensibility, that of the philosophical naturalist, specifically through the art of drawing. For Burchell, as for Humboldt, the art of visual representation—especially the depiction of landscape—was a vital tool of scientific description.

Keywords: tropical landscape; naturalist; resources; independent traveler

Chapter.  7002 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Colonialism and Imperialism

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