Article ID: CBB376117812

International Culture Collections and the Value of Microbial Life: Johanna Westerdijk’s Fungi and Ernst Georg Pringsheim’s Algae (2022)


Around the turn of the twentieth century, microbiologists in Western Europe and North America began to organize centralized collections of microbial cultures. Collectors published lists of the strains they cultured, offering to send duplicates to colleagues near and far. This essay explores the history of microbial culture collections through two cases: Johanna Westerdijk’s collection of phytopathogenic fungi in the Netherlands and Ernst Georg Pringsheim’s collection of single-celled algae at the German University in Prague. Historians of science have tended to look at twentieth-century biological specimen collections as either repositories of communal research materials or storehouses of economically important biological variation. An examination of Westerdijk’s and Pringsheim’s collections illustrates how collectors, researchers, and patrons ascribed different kinds of value to collections featuring distinctive microbial life forms. This essay argues that characteristics of cultivated microorganisms, such as a fungus’s propensity to infect crops or an alga’s amenability to experimentation, shaped the trajectories of Westerdijk’s and Pringsheim’s collections as these collectors developed relationships with colleagues and patrons. Letters between Westerdijk and Pringsheim open a window onto divergences in their approaches to collecting cultures, while also shedding light on the aspirational internationality of the collections that resulted.

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Article Brad Bolman (2022) Introduction: What Right? Which Organisms? Why Jobs?. Journal of the History of Biology (pp. 3-13). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Alberts, G.
Knegtmans, Peter Jan
Zuidervaart, Huibert Jan
Reiling, Henri
Spunarová, Tat'jána
O'Malley, Maureen A.
Archives of Natural History
Journal of the History of Collections
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Museum History Journal
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Social Science History
KNAW Press
MIT Press
Collectors and collecting
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Correspondence and corresponding
Natural history
Societies; institutions; academies
Fric, Václav
Beijerinck, Martinus Willem
Worm, Ole
Vossius, Isaac
Baird, Spencer Fullerton
Wilson, Ernest Henry
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
17th century
18th century
20th century, early
Early modern
Prague (Czechia)
Great Britain
Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wettenschappen
Hudson's Bay Company
Smithsonian Institution

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