Category Archives: Library and Archives

The day the ‘Sea elephant’ came through the roof – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

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.

Photograph of a paper unfolded in its middle with several lines of cursive handwriting on each side of the fold.

7 April 1900 correspondence between Lord Walter Rothschild and Ernst Hartert

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.

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The Museum ‘homemade’ mobile field laboratory – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

Scientific expeditions have been regularly undertaken by the Museum since it opened its doors in 1881. These are often abroad and need to be planned well in advance, with supplies and equipment ordered and prepared, often on the Museum site. On many occasions staff can find themselves having to be creative and imaginative, especially when the terrain about to be experienced is likely to be extreme and the facilities limited.

Colour archival photograph showing a white truck in the mid-distance, parked in sparsely vegetated bushland next to a watering hole, with sand dunes rising from the horizon in the background

Museum field work in Namibia during the 1970s needed some special #AutoArchives facilities…

In the 1970s a group of Museum entomologists did just that, having acquired an ex-army lorry they were to transform it into a mobile field laboratory suitable for all their scientific research needs during a five month expedition through southern Africa. And thus, our Explore Your Archives Week stories continue…

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The Chrysler that drove across Africa in search of birds – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

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.

Black and white archival photograph showing a man sitting at a portable table in the foreground, a vehicle to his right and another man seated beside it to the rear.

Lynes (foreground) and Vincent, at breakfast in their mobile camp

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!

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Behind the scenes with our Modern Collections Team | Library and Archives

The Library holds a vast collection of literature covering all branches of the natural sciences. We collect this material to support the ground breaking science carried out in the Museum. To ensure we continue to support this research, we are constantly adding to our collections.

Photo of a member of the Library staff on a movable ladders placing a book into one of the shelving racks in the Library

Those collections don’t shelve themselves…

Over the past year, the Library purchased over one thousand books and subscribed and maintained access to hundreds of serials (journals, magazines and other items published in successive parts) both print and electronic. In addition to purchasing titles, we received hundreds more books and serials as gifts from other institutions and in exchange for our own material. New and existing collections need to be processed, cared for and maintained… and that’s where the Library’s Modern Collections team comes in.

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Exploring the manuscripts in the Museum Library and Archives: Dru Drury (1725-1804) | Library and Archives

In the eighteenth century, trade and exploration flourished as the British Empire expanded. However, it wasn’t all about creating colonies and importing produce. Dru Drury (1725-1804), an eighteenth-century London silversmith, naturalist and author, saw the chance to develop an insect collection of unprecedented scope.

Photoof a yellowed page showing the handwritten list

A list of equipment provided by Drury to ships heading all over the world, to assist in insect collecting (Library Entomology special collections)

In the manuscript collection of the Library and Archives, we hold a number of Drury’s unpublished papers which consists of letters, instructions to ships’ captains, and private notebooks. His correspondence is interesting for many reasons as he was in contact with many of the great naturalists of the time including Carl Linnaeus but also his business dealings with goldsmiths all over Europe – the letters of which are more business-like, and quite formal.

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Carving out history for #LibrariesDay | Library and Archives

This is the first of a series of new blogs focusing on external researchers who use the Library and Archive collections, to give them the opportunity to talk about their work and the role that our collections have played in their research. A perfect way to celebrate National #LibrariesDay! Our first post in the series is from student Zoe Barnett, who describes the importance of her access to our resources for her research into stone carving.

I remember visiting the Museum as a small child and being as fascinated with the outside of the building as I was with its contents. Now, 20 years later, I’m in my final year at the City and Guilds of London Art School, studying Architectural Stone Carving and I have to admit my interest in the ornamentation has grown dramatically!

Photo of a page in the archives showing drawings of fish species that would later be recreated as terracotta tiles

An example of the original Waterhouse drawings of the animals that adorn the walls of the Museum

During my second year at college I developed an interest in the terracotta animals that decorate the building. As part of a drawing project I spent time studying them, and I especially liked the panels on the large gate pillars on Cromwell Road. My drawing tutor introduced me to a reference book about the drawings for the terracotta models and I discovered the architect, Alfred Waterhouse, made them all.

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The importance of archives: the retail angle #ExploreArchives | Library and Archives

For Explore Your Archives Week, Rosie Gibbs, buyer at the Museum talks about how the collections within the Library and Archives provide inspiration for her, her team and external designers.

The retail buyers at the Museum are responsible for sourcing and developing the products on sale in the Museum’s shops and online store, and one of the first places we look for inspiration for new ranges is our Library and Archive collections.

Photo of the poster

Original WWI ‘The Fly Danger’ poster produced by the Museum

Photo showing retail products on a table featuring the poster design

The new range of products created using the poster

They are a fantastic source of design material and are incredibly important for retail products as they enable us to create ranges that help tell a story about the Museum and its collections. It is very important for us to be able to offer visitors exclusive gift products that remind them of their visit, and that they cannot buy anywhere else.

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