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Elle Larsson

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Twitter Handle: @Elle_Larsson

Collecting, Curating and the Construction of Zoological Knowledge:

Walter Rothschild’s Zoological Enterprise c. 1878-1937.

Late-Victorian banker and private collector Lionel Walter Rothschild

(1868-1937) dedicated his life to the study of zoology. Often dismissed by

historians as an ‘eccentric amateur’, he engaged in a wide range of zoological

activities, which this thesis defines as an ‘enterprise’: he collected and studied

huge quantities of zoological material, created a museum in which to house and display it for the benefit of researchers and visiting publics, and started his own zoological journal for disseminating the research that he, his museum curators and other zoologists performed.

My thesis departs from recent historical literature, which tends to compartmentalise the investigation of collecting, museums, journals and zoological research, to explore their historical co-development. It demonstrates the multiple connections between these activities that together constituted museum-based zoological knowledge and practice in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Britain. In exploring their intersections and synergies, it presents new and fruitful insights into the history of natural history, and establishes Rothschild as a far more significant contributor to this field than historians have previously realised.


Standard historical narratives present this period as a time of professionalisation within the British life sciences, emphasising the emergence of specialist, professional and experimental biologists who occupied the growing number of paid positions within laboratories, universities and government departments. These narratives have however neglected to give critical attention to those who, like Rothschild, remained outside of the professional establishment in this period. In contrast, this thesis illustrates his importance, and potentially that of other amateurs, to the world of natural history. It argues that only be examining the totality of the zoological enterprise and the multiple intersections between its practices, institutions, publications and personalities, can the historical significance of such individuals be revealed and understood.

1st Supervisor: Professor Abigail Woods

2nd Supervisors: Dr Adelene Buckland (KCL, English), Dr. Robert Prys-Jones (NHM)


I am a social and cultural historian of science whose research focuses on the history of natural history and the exotic animal trade. I completed my BA in History at Royal Holloway, University of London (2010-2013), followed by an MA in Public History (2013-2014). Having made the ‘animal-turn’ I began my PhD at King’s College London in 2015.

Entitled ‘Collecting, Curating and Construction of Zoological Knowledge: Walter Rothschild’s Zoological Enterprise c.1878-1937’, my PhD examines the work of Walter Rothschild and uses it as lens onto the world of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century natural history, zoology, and animal trading.



Larsson, Eleanor. ‘GRIGSON, Caroline. Menagerie: The History of Exotic Animals in England 1100–1837’. Archives of Natural History 44, no. 1 (April 2017): 190–91. doi:10.3366/anh.2017.0439.

Larsson, Eleanor. ‘McGHIE, Henry A. Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology: Birds, Books and Business’. Archives of Natural History 45, no. 2 (October 2018): 386–386. doi:10.3366/anh.2018.0538.

Larsson, Eleanor. ‘James, Matthew. Collecting Evolution: The Galapagos Expedition that Vindicated Darwin. Archives of Natural History 46, no.1 (April 2019): 176-177.


Papers Given:

  • Being Human/Being Animal, Hunterian Museum, 19th November 2015. An interactive workshop that used specimens and objects drawn from the museum’s collections to engage a public audience with research being done by participating researchers. I gave a short talk and answered questions on Ming the Giant Panda.

  • “Collecting, Curating and the Construction of Zoological Knowledge: the Work of Walter Rothschild c.1878 to 1937”. Departmental Seminar, History Department, Kings College London, 24th March 2016. This talk consisted of an introduction to my PhD Research and central research questions.

  • “The Eternal Money Question - Funding Walter Rothschild’s Zoological Enterprise,” a 35 minute paper given to the Veterinary History Society Meeting on 22nd February 2017. This event was held at King’s College London.

  • “From ‘magnificent’ and ‘very fine’ to ‘frightful’ and ‘worthless’: Walter Rothschild’s criteria for judging the value of natural history specimens.” A 15 minute paper delivered as part of the “Vetting Animals” Workshop, held at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science on 14 March 2017.

  • “Money brings the world to Walter: Collecting and Curating the Tring Zoological Collections”. A 20 minute paper delivered as part of the “Histories of Collections and Institutions CDP Colloquium,” National Portrait Gallery, 19 May 2017.

  • “From ‘magnificent’ and ‘very fine’ to ‘frightful’ and ‘worthless’: Walter Rothschild’s criteria for judging the value of natural history specimens.” A 20 minute paper delivered as part of the Royal Holloway Postgraduate Seminar Series, Bedford Square, held on 7 June 2017.

  • “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”: Walter Rothschild’s gateway into the zoological community. A 20 minute paper for the British Society for the History of Science Annual Conference, 8 July 2017, University of York.

  • “A Million Pound Museum,” a 45 minute paper given to a general audience as part of the 150th Birthday celebrations of Rothschild, on 6th February 2018. This event was held at Natural History Museum, Tring.

  • “The animals went in four by four”: Collection Building at the Tring Museum. ‘Trading Nature’, the Society for the History of Natural History Annual Conference, 4th June 2019, King’s Manor, University of York.

  • “The animals went in four by four”: Collection Building at the Tring Museum. Animal History Group Summer Conference, KCL, 6th June, 2019.



Curator, London’s Urban Jungle, 19th December 2015 – 21st February 2016. A temporary exhibition with the Horniman Museum and Gardens, located in their Natural History Gallery which gave an accessible overview of my research into Charles Jamrach and the Victorian animal trade.



“Zoology and zebras: Walter Rothschild and his Museum,” Waddesdon, 29 September, 2017.


“The lost art of cheque writing, a treasure trove for researchers,” Natural History Museum, 23 June 2017.


“Dingoes, Kiwis and Carriage Pulling Zebras: Walter Rothschild’s collection of live animals,” for, 17 May 2017.


“The day the ‘Sea elephant’ came through the roof”, Natural History Museum, 25 November 2016.


“Jamrach’s Legacy,” Horniman Museum and Gardens, 2 February 2016.


“Jamrach’s animal legacy,” Stories for Horniman Museum and Gardens. February 2016


“Creating London’s Urban Jungle,” Horniman Museum and Gardens, January 15 2016.


Awards and Prizes:


Poster Prize for ‘Collecting, Curating and the Construction of Zoological Knowledge: The work of Walter Rothschild, c.1878-1937.’ Presented at the Natural History Museum Students’ Association Postgraduate Conference, 7th and 8th March 2017. (2nd Place)


Professor Sir Richard Trainor PhD Scholarship (2015-2017).


MA in Public History Annual Prize, Royal Holloway (2014).

Professional affiliations and activities:


Council Member, Society for the History of Natural History (2018-present)

Co-Founder and Co-Convenor of the Animal History Group (2016-present) (

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