Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Herbarium 03-09-13

Loan specimens being checked

Today I visited the University of Melbourne's herbarium. I was helping to process a loan of specimen's from another University, which was a great opportunity to learn about botanical collections, their uses and the issues they face.

The collection is largely comprised of crisply dried botanical specimens that have been secured to sheets of paper, along with notes and annotations added at the point of its collection, its cataloguing and subsequent re-classifications. Aesthetically, they are absolutely charming. 

... and neatly packed
This dead organic matter constitutes a collection that is very much alive in terms of its use. It is constantly being added to, is used for teaching and research within and beyond the University, and makes use of new digital technology. The specimens hold the answers to a number of contemporary questions about our climate and ecosystem - for example, by analysing their DNA, we can compare levels of pollutants in the air in different times and places, and observing the spread or decline of plants in an area can reveal information about climate change. The specimens' research potential are enhanced by the herbarium's new scheme of high resolution digital imaging, which will reduce the time, money and the risks involved with physical loans; and by their participation in the Atlas of Living Australia, a fantastic resource which pools information about plant species and locations across time from institutions, organisations and individuals across Australia.

An eerie exhibit of the contents left in Grainger's
 mother's handbag following her suicide.
I also made a trip to the Grainger Museum, where I thoroughly enjoyed the insights into Grainger's autobiographical approach to curating. I left feeling simultaneously amused by his unusual character and inspired by his avid pursuit of so many interests!

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