The Mystics of Environmental History and Ethnobotonical Research

Gradina Botanica, Bucharest

By Ayanda Netshisaulu, Gale Ambassador at the University of Johannesburg|

Let me set the scene. Right at the beginning of my postgraduate career, starry eyed and interested in gender history, I was offered the opportunity to join a group of students from the University of Johannesburg and Western Sydney University for a two-week programme in the Kruger National Park in north-eastern South Africa. The programme mostly consisted of Zoology students who understood the importance of land gradients and wild animal feeding patterns. As a Humanities student I felt a bit out of place but I wasn’t particularly bothered considering I was enjoying the safari and learning about rhino’s territorial marking patterns!

It was during this trip, however, that I learned that historical narratives can be extracted from anything. We had been discussing land gradients – which to this day I don’t completely understand – when my History professor asked me: “gradients and the science aside, Ayanda what did you get from what was just said now?” What did I get? I was still trying to get my Humanities brain to catch up to the science of it all! How could I “get” anything? He then went on to explain how, for a historian, there is a story in everything. A historian would be asking themselves questions about past land use, about past peoples and about how they would have navigated this land. How did societies of the past know, for example, to burn the grass to allow for the fresh regrowth that would attract game? Whilst initially I had never felt so out of place, it was during this trip that I fell in love with the historical narratives of the environmental past.

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The Myth of the Rhinoceros

By Lyndsey England, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
I am a second-year student at Durham University, studying a joint degree in English Literature and History. My main areas of interest are African history and post-colonial literature, but when I’m not tucked away behind a stack of books in a corner of the library or promoting Gale, I’m busy with Durham Student Theatre, working backstage and on the production team for a number of performances each year. In amongst all this, I also try to find the time to write, because I am currently juggling a shamefully large amount of works in progress.

In 1769, writing his ‘Description of Three Hundred Animals’, a document included in Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Thomas Boreman presented the rhinoceros as follows:

“He has two girdles upon his body, like the wings of a dragon, from his back down to his belly … his skin is so hard, that no dart is able to pierce it, and covered over with scales, like the shell of a tortoise.”

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