Katie Ott, a museum studies student on placement with the Horniman, tells us about her fascinating work with our botany collection.
I’m Katie, and I’m three weeks into an eight-week work placement at the Horniman, helping the Natural History team to research and document the botany collection.
The botany collection at the Horniman is made up of around 3000 individual specimens either mounted onto herbarium sheets or bound in volumes. The flowering plant collection dates mainly from 1830-1850.
Two herbarium sheets from Flora Britannica no. 4., Katie Ott
The main task is to transcribe the (beautiful, but squiggly) Victorian handwriting on the herbarium sheets such as the plant’s scientific name, and where it was found etc onto MimsyXG, our collections management database.
There are many of us that have had to justify our job’s existence, especially in these times of never ending cuts. Often those with the purse strings have no idea what a curator does on a day to day basis, and this lack of understanding is something that we are constantly trying to rectify to help ensure the safety and future accessibility of the collections under our care.
Depending on your point of view, it may be sad or comforting to know that this is something curators have had to deal with for generations. The following article was written by Miss Joan Harding, the curator of Warwickshire Museum from 1938 to just after WW2. The museum was closed and emptied for refurbishment in 1938 and Miss Harding packed up the collections with little help to a draughty, leaky building nearby. Before works began, the museum was requisitioned by the army as a Civil Defence store, and all of the collections had to remain in their rather inadequate temporary location for a lot longer than was originally planned. To add insult to injury, the Education Committee tried to disperse the collection in 1947, but this was fortunately not approved.
Despite her best efforts over this decade of mothballing, some objects were lost during the constant battle of attrition, and Miss Harding left and emigrated to South Africa in 1948, possibly after running out of patience. Miss Jocelyn Morris took her place shortly afterwards and oversaw the long overdue renovations for the next 3 years, opening up the museum to great fanfare in May of 1951.
Without further ado, here is a transcription by Janet Vaughan of the observations of Miss Harding:
What is the Work of a Curator of a “Closed” Museum?
From Miss Harding’s Notebook, CR 2547/146, held at Warwickshire County Records Office
“This question suggested itself to me when an educational authority (and one who should know better since this particular human is administered by an Education Committee) voiced in my hearing “I can’t think what she finds to do.”
Gosse is well known for his interest in aquariums. He invented the word aquarium and was among the first to keep animals alive successfully. In 1856 he published a book; ‘The aquarium: an unveiling of the wonders of the deep sea’, and was also partly responsible for the aquarium craze that gripped Victorian England.
The exhibition team decided that no exhibition on rock pooling and aquariums was complete without a real one set up in the gallery. Kids keep fish as pets – can’t be that hard … or so we thought. I’d like to share a few things we have learnt over the past few months: Continue reading →
This year’s event (#NatSCA2017), at the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, had a record 110 delegates, and as such was the biggest NatSCA conference to date. At the heart of the conference was the new Whale Hall, part of an enormous redevelopment project of the David Attenborough Building. As many of us marvelled at the huge leviathan overhead, the rest of us rushed between advertising sponsor stalls, exchanged ideas, caught up with one another and most importantly, fuelled up on coffee!
Feeling inspired, we were ready to begin this year’s talks on the theme: “Evolving Ideas: Provocative New Ways of Working with Collections” as Paolo Viscardi, NatSCA Chair, keenly ushered us in to the main lecture theatre. Continue reading →
Most curators have those niggling objects at the back of their stores. Models and illustrations previously used for teaching or display in the dim and distant past, but kept for a rainy day. Not quite real objects and not the kind of thing you would necessarily want to accession.
Well, we’ve embraced these wonderful objects in our new exhibition: Object Lessons.
Brendel Models, George Loudon Collection
Object Lessons celebrates the scientific model and illustration collection of George Loudon. Each of these finely crafted objects was created for the purpose of understanding the natural world through education, demonstration and display.
The object-rich exhibition will look at this incredible collection through themes such as Craftsmanship, the Teaching Museum and the Microscopic. Continue reading →
Not Just old Birds in Cases – The Value of Natural History Collections
The most recent exhibition ‘Extinction or Survival?’ at Manchester Museum has brought many interesting ideas and suggestions from a wide group of visitors about how we can change our future. Several comments have mentioned animals kept in museums and collections, for example, “Stop killing animals to put in a museum” or “help all the animals by collecting DNA … and … not get stuffed like … in museums”. These comments have inspired me to write about the importance of natural history collections, especially the value of bird collections.
Comment card left at the ‘Extinction or Survival?’ exhibition at Manchester Museum, 2017.
Whether collecting birds for science is still necessary remains a hotly debated topic. However, the value of scientific collections cannot be questioned. Research or reference collections are still making crucial contributions in documenting biodiversity in time and space, and understanding species’ ecology and evolution, vital for conservation strategies. Furthermore, collections and museum have an important role in preserving and caring for past and present natural heritage and providing educational opportunities. Continue reading →