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
Viney, Mike
Rumsey, Mike
Jim Mills
Karl Schulze-Hagen
Cheney, Sharon
Matthew Fishburn
Archives of Natural History
BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Social Science History
Science in Context
Museum History Journal
Springer International Publishing
MIT Press
KNAW Press
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Correspondence and corresponding
Collectors and collecting
Natural history
Biological specimens
Roe, John Septimus
Emile Parzudaki
Charles Parzudaki
Tinbergen, Nikolaas
Worm, Ole
Vossius, Isaac
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
17th century
18th century
Early modern
20th century, late
Idaho (U.S.)
Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wettenschappen
University of Prague
Smithsonian Institution
Univerzita Karlova
Hudson's Bay Company

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