The private herbarium of the eminent eighteenth-century naturalist and explorer Sir Joseph Banks became one of the founding collections of the Natural History Museum’s herbarium following his death 200 years ago this year, in 1820.
The legacy of Banks’s voyages overseas – and particularly the Endeavour voyage with James Cook – has been well documented. This post, by Fred Rumsey, looks at the British specimens Banks collected, or was gifted, and considers the significance of those collections today.
I joined the NHM two years ago, passionate about the natural world and all its diversity, yet fearful for its future as a result of the catastrophic loss of species and their habitats due to human action. And the past two years have not been a disappointment. I have found a passionate community at the NHM highly committed to protecting and promoting diversity in nature – it’s at the heart of our vision of a world where people and planet thrive.
Yet, the vastly increased awareness raised through the Black Lives Matter movement following the brutal murder of George Floyd has highlighted the stark inequalities across our society. It’s been a wake-up call that we haven’t been focussed enough on diversity for people at our Museum. If we are truly ‘for people and planet’ then we need to be.
And that this has happened when we are in the midst of a global pandemic which is widening further the inequality gap, drives home the point even more starkly.
Museums are places for society to come together, reflect, debate and discuss, but they can only be so if they are inclusive of the society within which they sit. We have a lot of work to do in diversifying our workforce, audiences, and the way we understand and talk about our collection until that is true.
In a recent blog post we looked at the contribution of the eminent eighteenth-century naturalist and explorer Sir Joseph Banks to the herbarium at the Natural History Museum. Banks died in 1820 – 200 years ago this year – at the age of 77. His private herbarium subsequently became one of the founding collections of the Natural History Museum’s General Herbarium of over 5 million specimens.
As a young man, Joseph Banks was a traveller. For seven years, from the age of 23, his travels took him across the globe, to all continents except Antarctica, and they established his reputation as a leading natural historian of the day. Collecting specimens was at the very core of what he was doing during those voyages undertaken during the late 1760s and early 1770s. Botanical specimens that he collected are today in the herbarium at the Natural History Museum .
In this post, we look at Banks’s botanizing during the voyages he made overseas – to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1766, on James Cook’s first Circumnavigation from 1768–71 and to Iceland in 1772 – and we consider the scientific significance today of the collections that he made.
What were your highlights from the City Nature Challenge this year? Although I missed taking part in a public BioBlitz at the Natural History Museum, I enjoyed my own mini BioBlitz in my little London garden – making 99 observations and managing to identify 80 different species. My favourite find was a tiny Bethylid wasp which was the first one I have ever seen. These wasps are just a few millimetres long and are known as ‘flat wasps’ because of their squashed appearance. They are parasitoids of beetle larvae or moth caterpillars.
Have you seen any bee-flies in your garden? Bee-flies look rather like bees but are actually true flies (Diptera). They have round, furry bodies and a long proboscis (tongue) held out straight. The proboscis can sometimes cause alarm but they do not bite or sting and just use it to drink nectar from spring flowers, often while hovering. Flowers with long nectar tubes such as primroses and lungworts are particular favourites, and bee-flies are likely to be important pollinators of these.
The Natural History Museum Building Stone collection contains over 17,000 specimens and is one of the largest documented collections of its kind in the UK. It is particularly useful for matching stone in historical buildings during conservation work, but not only for that!
Often this collection causes an unconscious burst of inventiveness, and it features amazing pieces of art like this black stone from Derbyshire or this spectacular limestone. This time around it has inspired artist Charles Richard to collect the ‘sonic’ languages extracted from geological materials, a continuation of his master project at the Royal College of Art with a mission to create a series of digital box sets.
Continue reading to learn more about the building stone collection and Charles’ project.
The Museum’s new strategy to 2031 has been announced, with a call to arms to take action against the current environmental crisis facing our planet.
In the lead up to the announcement, the Connect product team in the Digital Media department were tasked with a brief: to deliver an impactful “takeover” of the Museum’s homepage which grabbed the attention of the user while not only conveying a sense that urgent action was needed, but delivering a message of hope for the planet’s future, not despair.