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300 Years of Growth

Botany in the University of Dublin - Incubation and Emancipation”.

12 October 2011

Group photo

Jim White

October 5th 2011 was another highlight of Botany’s tercentenary celebrations. Dr James White, recently retired from U.C.D.’s School of Biology & Environmental Science, delivered his eagerly-awaited lecture on “Botany in the University of Dublin - Incubation and Emancipation”. This was a ground-breaking effort on Dr White’s part, and the audience was awed and fascinated by the wealth of information and allusion woven into his presentation.

Starting with the appointment of the first lecturer in Botany - Henry Nicholson, in 1711 - Dr White underlined the fact that all the early holders of the position were doctors of medicine. In the long period of ‘incubation’, the primary role of the botanist was to instill in medical students a knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants. Dr White went on to show how, in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, botany became ‘emancipated’ from medicine and took its place as a science in its own right. He dwelt on three luminaries in the Department’s history:William Henry Harvey (1811-1866), plant-collector extraordinary, to whom we owe the basis of our international herbarium; Henry Horatio Dixon (1869-1953)Happy Girls, Professor of Botany for 45 years, famous for his contribution to our understanding of how sap ascends to the tops of trees; and David Allardice Webb (1912-1994), author of An Irish Flora and co-editor of Flora Europaea, a man who still looms large in the memory of many of the older members of the audience. (One of David Webb’s less widely-known contributions was the brilliant series of lectures that he gave to undergraduates on the history of Science. Latterly this has been a neglected subject in this University – which makes our debt to James White all the greater).

The lecture – preceded by dinner (Commons) and followed by a reception - was well attended. This was indeed a remarkable reunion, with attendance ranging from present-day undergraduates through successive generations of alumni, including the entire graduating class of 1967 (see photographs).

For a PDF of James White’s presentation, click here

For more on Trinity’s leading botanists down the years, see -years/chairs

MerrimentFriends meetingClass of '64

Last updated 1 November 2011 by