The MBA was founded in 1884 and its Laboratory in Plymouth opened in 1888. Since then, the MBA has continuously carried on scientific work to further the understanding of the marine environment and disseminate this knowledge widely. The history of the MBA is well-documented, most notably in The Marine Biological Association 1884-1984: One hundred years of marine research by Southward, A.J. and Roberts, E.K. (1984), which is available as an Occasional Publication of the MBA.
These pages will explore different, perhaps lesser-known, aspects of the MBA’s history, the history that is tangential to its main purpose but reveals the important aspects of the history of the MBA and the history of marine biology in Britain and beyond. In particular, they will consider themes such as the history of science, local history, the history of art, historical geography, and literature.
125 Years at the Laboratory
Since 1888, the MBA has been based at the Laboratory at Citadel Hill, playing an integral role in Plymouth's history and current research and cultural communities. From February 2013, the MBA, along with local partners, will be working on a project to mark the 125th anniversary of the Laboratory. For more information, please click here.
Resources: For a list of resources associated with this project, please see here.
Events: For a list of events associated with this project, please see here.
History of Science
The history of marine biology is intrinsically linked with the history of science more generally. Looking at the wider context of science allows us to understand marine biology in conjunction with developments in, for example, the history of medicine, polar science, the history of physiology, and the history of technology.
Project: In June 2013, the MBA worked with the archives at the Bristol Zoological Gardens to compare the two insitutions' histories with regard to conservation, research and public engagement in the South West of England. For more information, please click here.
The MBA’s history is tied to that of Plymouth and Devon, giving the MBA’s global work a local flavour. The neighbouring counties of Cornwall and Dorset have left their mark on the MBA’s science, and this is especially true when we consider close links between the MBA and local fishing communities or the importance of local personalities in the development of the MBA.
Project: In March 2013, the MBA and the University of St Mark and St John prepared a small display of material relating to a trio of unusual Plymouth plants: the Plymouth pear, the Plymouth strawberry and the Plymouth thistle. For more information, please click here.
Project: From May 2013, the MBA will be working with volunteers at the South West Film & Television Archive to identify films of local marine life and sciences. For more information, please click here.
History of Art
Before specimens could be photographed in high resolution, scientists recorded specimens by creating elaborate drawings. These were very precise and often beautiful as well as scientifically accurate. The MBA holds many such drawings that bear witness to the specific and disappearing scientific skill of scientific illustration.
Historical geography studies how places were or evolved over time, and the MBA holds much material looking at specific places at different times, mostly contained in letters and descriptions made by scientists. These can relate to the coastal environment, the sea or the marine species, and are relevant to local sites as well as European and international places.
The MBA holds unique material linking science to poetry and literature. In particular, during the early Easter Classes (which were residential courses for students of marine biology that ran at the MBA from the beginning until 1973), students and staff would write and illustrate poems and abecedariuses about marine biology.
Project: From May 2013, the MBA will be collating information on its scientific poetry, and especially the Easter Class poems. Please visit the project page here.
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