Bringing Joseph Banks into the 21st Century | Digital Collection Programme

1) Banks Portrait
Portrait of Sir Joseph Banks, Te Papa Collection

Sir Joseph Banks, Born 24 February 1743 was a collector of natural history specimens. He was an avid botanist and his collection included a significant collection of insects. His collection was originally left to Banks’ librarian Robert Brown, but to the British Museum thereafter.  Banks was an influential man who was president of the Royal Society 1778 to his death in 1820. This enabled him to continue supporting expeditions and forging networks bringing together specimens from the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific worlds.

Banks entomology collection

2) Banks Lepidoptera
Drawer of Lepidoptera from the Bank’s entomology collection.

The Bank’s entomology collection has been officially designated as historic by the Museum’s trustees, they are of great scientific interest due to their age, provenance and the information that we have relating to the specimens. All the specimens from this collection are pinned and in glass-topped drawers. This collection includes specimens collected from a variety of locations including his home in Lincolnshire and from his travels including the HMS Endeavour voyage (1768–1771).

Bank’s insect collection was studied by Johan Fabricius, a Danish zoologist and one of the most important entomologists of the eighteenth century. Fabricius studied under Carl Linnaeus for two years and named nearly 10,000 species of animals and established the basis for modern insect classification. He often travelled to London to study the collections of British scientists such as Sir Joseph Banks. The Bank’s insect collection includes many type specimens (an example specimen that a species is named after) that Fabricius used in his original species description. This makes this collection an incredibly important and relevant scientific resource today.

We are currently scanning the complete drawers of the Banks Entomology collection, for reference and conservation. The aim is that these images will be released via the Museum’s Data Portal alongside some basic data to make them more accessible to the wider public and scientific audience. The next stage of digitisation is to image and capture any data from the individual specimens.

This collection is of great scientific and cultural importance. It is a unique resource that’s highly sought after by visiting researchers. However, as it is over 200 years old, specimens are delicate and at risk. So great care and consideration is needed as to how and why we allow access to these specimens. By imaging these specimens and providing access online, we not only protect this important collection, but we also widen awareness and access so that researchers across the world will be able to access the collection online.

Digitising the Banksian herbarium collection

3) Banks Herbarium

Joseph Banks was an avid botanist and his botanical collection laid the foundation for the General Herbarium at the Museum. The Herbarium includes the collections made by Banks and naturalist Daniel Solander in Macaronesia, South America, Polynesia, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and South Africa during the Endeavour voyage.

Museum curators Jovita Yesilyurt, Ranee Prakash and Fred Rumsey are joining forces with volunteers to prepare botanical specimens for digitisation, bringing the historical Banksian herbarium collection into the twenty-first century. Part of this venture is an initiative called V Factor. V Factor seeks to increase understanding of and engagement with the Museum’s collections by offering visitors the chance to work alongside our experts.

Museum curators both guide and work alongside volunteers in key tasks related to curating, preserving and cataloguing these Herbarium specimens. These essential repairing and cataloguing activities help us understand what we have in the collection. One of the outcomes of the project will be a basic digital record for each specimen available. Once we know what we have and its curatorial condition we are able to make plans for more detailed digital imaging and digitisation of this collection in the future.

The V Factor volunteer team have met every Tuesday since October 2017. They are focusing initially on the Brassicales (cabbage, capers and mustard families) that are part of the Banksian herbarium. So far they have curated and created stud records for around 100 boxes which equate to around 10,000 records. This project will generate data which will be made available on both the Museum’s database and the Museum’s public data portal

“This is an incredibly valuable programme as it doesn’t cost the world. It can accomplish more than a member of museum staff could do on their own and  incredibly rewarding for volunteers enabling new each individual to work to their strengths”  Renee Miller, Volunteer lead for V Factor

To find out more about the historical entomology collections you can visit the Museum Website. To find out more about what is happening within the Botanical collections please follow @NHM_Botany on twitter, you can keep up to date with all digitisation projects please visit the website or follow us on twitter @NHM_Digitise.

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