Trinity College English Professor Sarah Bilston’s forthcoming book, hunting for lost orchids, Delve into the dangerous and deceitful world of 19th-century orchid hunting.
To support her in uncovering the history and mystery behind the international obsession with the elusive “lost orchid,” Bilston received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship. This six-month grant of hers follows her NEH summer scholarship that helped her work on this project last year.
Bilston said, “I’m very honored to be recognized in this way. It gives me the space, the resources, and the opportunity to complete a book that I’m really passionate about.”
Bilston’s book follows the fierce hunt for the ‘lost orchid’ in the 19th century.Cattleya Labiata—as a means of investigating the rise of consumerism and collectivism at the time, the changing meaning of orchids in Victorian visual and literary texts, the intersection of big science and big business, and the power of colonial profit-making.
The book tells the story of the arrival of particularly brilliant purple and crimson orchids in England in 1818 and the subsequent growth of cultural obsession with orchids in Europe and North America.
“‘Orchidomania’ or ‘Orchidelirium’ was the 19th-century equivalent of ‘Tulip Fever,'” says Bilston, whose research and education focuses on British Victorian literature. increase.
Bilston first encountered this particular subject while researching Victorian gardens for her earlier book on English suburbs in the 19th century. “I came across repeated references to orchids and orchid hunting, and there is a story to be told about why Victorians loved orchids, why they wanted to find more orchids, and who wanted to buy them. “I’ve become a bit of a detective,” she said.
The professor started working on this project in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from traveling for research. “Fortunately, many of the sources I needed to access, including the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, had digitized material, so I was able to access a fair amount online. ’” he says Mr. Bilston. “Librarians were keen to help remotely. One librarian from the Linnaeus Society in London took a picture with his mobile phone when the building was closed and emailed it to me.” Kim funded a research trip to London and Paris last summer, where Bilston discovered additional undigitized documents.
At the heart of the “Orchidelirium” was the popular and mysterious “Lost Orchid”. Bilston said: Who actually went there? How did they get there? what route did they take? how did they communicate? Who funded Plant Hunter’s work? I wanted to follow the story. ”
The book focuses on real people wiped out by hunting, using letters from naturalists, plant hunters, collectors, and businessmen as primary sources, along with census data, diaries, magazines, and newspapers. I guess. Bilston said this approach was familiar to her because she had always been interested in challenging herself and her students to look beyond familiar texts. “When you read voices you’ve never heard before, such as species, socio-economically disadvantaged people, it reveals new perspectives and new versions of history,” Bilston said.
Her research led to an unexpected insight. “The archives have revealed something amazing,” said Bilston. “The search for the missing orchid is more complicated than you might imagine. There were many secrets and many hidden truths made by the people involved in the search. If you have any other choice, plant She can’t be a hunter – it’s a mortal danger.”
Bilston will next return to the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens to read more letters from 19th-century businessmen and plant hunters. “I’m also working on recovering records of local Brazilians being caught hunting,” she said. And I need to complete a book section on the environmental impact of orchid hunting.”
Educated at University College London and Oxford, Bilston has taught a wide range of courses in Victorian literature, including Victorian Short Stories, Fairy Tales, Women and Empire, and Victorian Literature and Social Crisis. increase. She won her Thomas of Trinity Her Church Her Brownell Award in 2017.
Bilston’s first scholarly work, An Awkward Age in Female Popular Fiction, 1850-1900: The Transition to Girls and Women, published by Oxford University Press in 2004. her second book, Suburban Promise: A Victorian History in Literature and Culture, was published by Yale University Press in 2019 and was named a ‘Choice Outstanding Academic Title’. Searching for lost orchids Published by Harvard University Press.