Collecting the Environment : A Cultural and Aesthetic Historical Analysis of Mushroom Collecting in Sweden from the 19th century to the Present

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia

Abstract: The aim of this project is to investigate a cultural history of mushroom collecting in Sweden from the 19th century to the present with a focus on connections between aesthetics and the environment.  Collecting is defined broadly as gathering, storing, and accumulating.  This definition encompasses mycologists, mushroom enthusiasts, botanists, and natural historians documenting and preserving as many species as possible.  But it also includes collecting in the sense of leisurely mushroom collectors taking a part of the environment home with them to eat, store, or learn from. A history of mushroom collecting in Sweden is framed that does not only focus on edible mushrooms or scientific value, but emphasizes their linkages to place, memory, conservation, sociality, and embodied knowledge. Mushroom aesthetics are a starting point for exploring wider human connections to the environment and human perceptions of nature.   Collecting is presented as a process which is argued to be a means for constant dialogue with the environment. The cyclical collecting process is broken into stages that are discussed in designated chapters: Hunting, Identification and Assessment, and Storage and Sharing. Aesthetic aspects of mushroom collecting in Sweden are examined within these stages applying visual and discourse analyses to archival images, questionnaires, historic cookbook recipes, and mushroom identification books. Importance is also assigned to fully immersed aesthetic experiences and specific sensory stimuli that facilitate interconnection with non-human actors. Immersed aesthetic experiences are argued to be significant in their ability to democratize aesthetic appreciation of nature, in contrast to historical associations of aesthetics with taste and high culture. Fluctuating historical judgments are mapped about mushrooms, highlighting the framing of nature as a productive asset. Mushroom exhibitions are shown to be a point of collective meaning making, where aspects of natural time according to mushrooms challenge anthropocentric notions of temporality. This thesis through its focus on aesthetics in mushroom collecting reveals spaces of uncertainty and dynamic fluctuation in human-nature relationships, as well as a sense of value for being physically present and part of environments. 

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