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A Collector’s Item: Hildred Bigwood’s Herbarium


Miss Hildred Bigwood (1921-2000), when I first knew her in the 1970s, was the botany technician in the biological sciences department at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. She was also a plant collector. Her life’s work was the creation of a remarkable herbarium that proved controversial when its final ‘home’ had to be settled. This paper problematises two methodological difficulties: writing an incomplete and yet justifiable biography when data are missing, and the ethical dilemmas posed by writing about a dead friend who is unable to give consent. Lives are entangled with other people and other things. Glimpses of a life, collected from other people’s memories offer insights but fail to provide descriptions free from distorting otherness. Tangible, supporting evidence: documents, photographs, and artefacts provide more definite biographic details. Such entanglements are messy but need to be exposed and analysed for what they are. There is one more social complication that threads its way through this biography, and that is the position of women within the university, complicated by notions of academic and hegemonic claims to scientific worthiness.


Plant, Collecting, Science, Women, Biography, Friend, Dilemma



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