Botanic Gardens as Spaces and Places of Medical Teaching – The example of the Glasgow and Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.
Paper given at the symposium, ‘Medical training, student experience and the transmission of knowledge, c.1800-2014’, organised by Laura Kelly, at CHOMI, UCD, October 2014
This paper will explore the ways in which botanic gardens were utilised as spaces and sources of material for teaching medical students at the turn of the nineteenth century. It will
focus two University botanic gardens in Scotland. Firstly, I will discuss the early nineteenth century development of Glasgow Botanic Garden (opened 1817) with its designated role as
a place for medical education as well as a public garden. This will be compared with the earlier Edinburgh botanic garden, which was also both a teaching resource and a public garden. Of particular interest is the period under Dr John Hope, who as King’s botanist for Scotland and Superintendent of the Royal Garden in Edinburgh created the new botanic garden in the 1760s and also taught within it.
This last example is particularly important because there are surviving records of notes made by students at his lectures, diagrams of his botanical experiments and plans of how the gardens were laid out. There are also plant lists sent to the College of Surgeons. His roles as teacher, botanist and garden designer can be used to illuminate how spaces outside the lecture theatre, laboratory and the hospital were utilised and give context to the development of the Glasgow botanic garden.
One of the key questions I hope to explore is how these gardens were used as part of the medical education and did their design reflect their educational function? Therese O’Malley’s work on botanic gardens has explored the relationship between aesthetics and scientific knowledge (Conan, 1992) and David Livingstone has identified the University botanic garden as an important space for scientific knowledge (Livingstone, 2003). I will extend this by further interrogating this idea and analysing how teaching was conducted within the gardens and how botanic specimens were taken from the gardens and used in lectures and demonstrations. The central primary sources for this will be accounts of teaching practices and lecture notes held in archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and Glasgow University. This research forms part of my wider Wellcome Medical History & Humanities Fellowship exploring the ‘Garden as a Laboratory’ in the long eighteenth century.