Our latest blog by Alex Mills from the current cohort of trainees takes a look back a few weeks to the BioBlitz in Tring, Hertfordshire:
‘What is it? What’s on me?’
‘Wow. It’s huge, Mum!’
‘Ah, cool. Hold still…’
Unconventional collection methods can work wonders during a BioBlitz. In this instance a mother accompanying her children on a minibeast hunt found herself functioning as a perfect interception trap for Stenocorus meridianus, a rather imposing longhorn beetle. The beetle was duly potted and admired. Everyone (including the mother/beetle trap…eventually) was transfixed by this magnificent beetle. And that was the order of the day at the highly successful Tring BioBlitz a few weeks ago: enjoyment and biological records, with kids and adults of all ages being transported by the natural world around them.
The art of writing a cheque is somewhat of a lost one these days, what with direct debits and online transfers revolutionising the way in which we pay our bills. However discovering a box of cheque book stubs within the remnants of the Tring Correspondence (in the Natural History Museum Archives) has given me a vital source of evidence for tracing the history and finances of the Natural History Museum at Tring.
Within the box there are surviving cheque stubs for the years 1895 through to 1897, a key period in the museums history. Lord Walter Rothschild (1868-1937) had begun to employ staff, furnish and expand his museum and of course, buy large existing collections of specimens from other private collectors and smaller ones from natural history dealers and suppliers, in order to enhance his own rapidly growing collection of zoological specimens.
A growing number of museums are joining open data initiatives to publish their collection databases and digital reproductions online. The Museum has operated a policy of open by-default on our digital scientific collections.
By signing the International Open Data Accord, the Museum recognises the opportunities and challenges of the data revolution and adopts a set of internationally recognised principles as our response to these.
Natural history collections provide an enormous evidence base for scientific research on the natural world. We are working to digitise our collection and provide global, open access to this data via our Data Portal.
To digitise the collection we are developing digital capture flows that cater for a wide range of collection types. One of the applications we have developed is Inselect – a cross-platform, open source desktop PC application that automates the cropping of individual images of specimens from whole-drawer scans.
We are in the process of digitising the Museum’s parasitic louse (Phthiraptera) collection, which consists of around 73,000 microscope slides. The collection is one of the largest – and the most taxonomically comprehensive – in the world.
Lice are permanent ectoparasites, meaning they live on the outside of their bird and mammal hosts. They are highly host specific, with the majority of the ~5,000 louse species being unique to a particular host species of mammals and birds.
Elle Larsson is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching the specimen and archival collections related to Lord Walter Rothschild, at the Natural History Museum (at both South Kensington and Tring). A significant part of this involves going letter by letter through the volumes of correspondence of the Museum at Tring. In the following blog, Elle highlights one particular letter which describes the planned arrival for a very large #AnimalArchive acquisition in 1900.
Being able to delve into the Archives of the Museum has to be one of the most exciting things about doing a collaborative PhD with the Museum. In my case I’m looking at the Tring correspondence collection, the papers and letters which came from Lord Walter Rothschild’s (1868-1937) Zoological Museum at Tring (now the Natural History Museum at Tring). I am not a scientist but a historian and am looking to find out more about Rothschild’s zoological enterprise and scientific work. The Museum Archive is a critical source of information for my research.
In recent weeks I’ve come across some fantastic items including original watercolour drawings completed by Clara Hartert the wife of Tring curator, ornithologist and zoologist, Ernst Hartert (1859 – 1933), while on an expedition with her husband; a letter which contained feathers originally sent in 1894; and cheque stubs which reveal the colossal sums of money that changed hands as natural history specimens were traded. However it is the letters which relate to specimens held in the Museum collections, which add a whole new dimension to the work I’m doing. Recently I came across two letters which referred to a ‘Sea Elephant’ and one which can still be seen in Gallery 5 at the Natural History Museum at Tring.
An event such as Explore Your Archive Week (#ExploreArchives on Twitter) provides a great opportunity to challenge us to look at our collections in different ways. Today’s theme of transportation and automobiles (#AutoArchives) is a perfect example. As a natural history library and archive, we wouldn’t be an obviously rich source for material on this subject, but it is exactly for this reason that real gems can emerge.
When I approached our volunteers Effie and Judith, who work with our ornithology manuscript collections at the Natural History Museum at Tring, they knew exactly where to look!
Science Uncovered 2015 is rapidly approaching and, as usual, the Library and Archives team will be contributing to the night this Friday 25 September. And not just at the Museum in South Kensington but also at our sister Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire.
South Kensington (between 17.00 – 21.00)
We’ll be in the Earth Sciences Library in the Red Zone (the door is within the Lasting Impressions gallery). This collection space is not usually open to the public, so it’s a very rare opportunity to have a peek inside.
This year we’ll be showing off some our favourite items from the Library: books, artworks, archives and artefacts that highlight the amazing diversity of our collections and our work.