So in the summer I and my fellow trainee Claire Miles were on a week long placement at the Natural History Museum in London.
The aim was an introduction to the whole collection at the museum. This is a museum with 70 million specimens, so a week was certainly needed.
The collection is like a library of the natural world and the curators care for the collection so that researchers can use it efficiently, this means making sure labels have the correct information and registration number, and that this matches up with the information in the register, on the database and on the specimen itself.
NHM Curators do research, but this is usually only 5-10% of their annual work. Some of the researchers are based at the museum or at one of the London Universities, but the majority are visitors from all over the world.
Curation is not just about filing and archiving though, preservation and conservation of the specimens is also very important, having a series of specimens, where we know the location, the date collected and the species is very important and useful. Museum specimens are used to track changes in animal populations and to find new species, they allow us to piece together the past which will inform us about the future.
The flowering plant collection is housed in the Cocoon, which is also home to a gallery which shows the work that goes behind the scenes at the museum.
This specimen was part of the Banks Collection and had been collected by either Joseph Banks or Daniel Solander on Captain Cook’s first voyage to Australia in the 1770s. They were exploring the newly christened Endeavour River in what was to become Queensland and added these plants to their collection, and here they are almost 250 years later, still a piece of scientific data.
Whisking through the General Herbarium we saw where the plant specimens used to be kept.
Then to the Cryptogammic Library where the algae, moss, ferns and lichens are kept. Jovita showed us how the collections are not just used by scientists, but are also an inspiration for the Arts as seen on this Alexander McQueen dress.
We then moved on to look at the Lichen collection with Holger Thues, who is currently processing a massive backlog of lichen specimens with the help of volunteers.
We also went to one of the rooms in the towers which contained the Lichen exsiccate collection.
These are books with samples created for collectors. sometimes these books contain type specimens, but the specimen may have been broken up to be put in more than one book, then the book may have a second edition also with specimens, a slight headache for curators…
We also saw some of Sowerby’s Fungi models that were made in the late 18th C out of pipe clay. They were restored in the 1880s as the colours had destabilised and were no longer accurate.