The Museum für Naturkunde houses extensive collections of natural history objects (animals, fossils, rocks and minerals). For a research museum like ours, these are the most important and central aspects of our own scientific studies of natural history. Our collection objects are also used for research purposes by scientists throughout the world. The collections are thus an important aspect of the scientific services which the museum offers and, in a wider sense, belong to an international group of natural history collection resources.
Value of the collection items
'Collection Items' are unique in that they serve as long-term, testable points of reference. For this reason they can, and must, form the basic data for a wide range of scientific questions, which are continually developing and changing.
Collection objects play a key role as direct evidence of earlier scientific studies. They are points of reference in a process by which scientific knowledge has accumulated. With each new discovery, with each new result derived from these objects, the collections rise in value. Locality details also belong to this knowledge base. They offer highly relevant information about where the animal, plant, mineral or rock originated from at a given point in time; be it historically, or millions of years ago. Just as important are the physical properties of our collection objects. Descriptions based on the specimens can always be checked against the real thing, and allow scientific hypotheses to be confirmed and tested.
The scientific naming and ordering of collection objects, following particular systematic rules, is an essential part of many scientific disciplines. These long-term processes of naming and ordering are at the same time of considerable cultural value. They reflect the history of science, earlier perspectives and ideologies (the ‘Zeitgeist’) and changes in society at large.
Management and Tasks of the Science Program Collection Development
Management of ‘natural history collections’ as a research tool thus has a clear set of goals: the long-term, optimal and comprehensive protection and development of the collection, with a view towards maintaining their integrity and usefulness.
This includes two types of approaches:
- Technological measures and measures towards conservation and preparation of the objects themselves, measures towards optimal storage and building construction. These all aim to maintain the objects and their relevant documentation.
- Measures and strategies that improve the recoverable information. This can occur through better data about the object itself, or through offering better access to the object for new scientific questions.
The Science Program Collection Development at the MfN originated from:
- Experience with conservation projects.
- Comparison with advanced international standards for collection management.
- The realisation that much research is needed, both about the collection objects themselves as well as their day-to-day maintenance, with a view to the best possible ways to make them available for future research questions.
Accordingly, this research area includes a wide spectrum of pilot projects:
- Projects and studies about the technical archiving conditions which best maintain material threatened by deterioration and/or old or endangered documentation.
- Projects and studies about optimising modern logistical approaches.
- Projects and studies such as how the information recovered through the scientific use of the objects, and their associated datasets, can be maintained in terms of information technology, archiving, and being made widely available.
The main research aspects
The three key aspects of the Science Program Collection Development are:
- Materials and conservation research (How do we best maintain collections over the long-term? Example project: Historic Wet Collection at the Museum für Naturkunde/KUR)
- Collection objects, documentation, and information content (How do we make the best use of the collections and their associated data? Example project: GBIF)
- Interdisciplinary aspects of collection items (What, philosophically, is the ‘object’? What is the specimen's contribution to aspects of science history and the understanding of scientific hypotheses? What is the value of natural history collections for the arts and culture? How are collections understood by the public?
This last field ties in with our Science Program Science Communication and History of Science where cooperation can be expected.
Projects in the Science Program
- Contribution to the GBIF-Information-System Soil Zoology (Edaphobase) (BMBF) (Dr. Birger Neuhaus, Dr. Jason Dunlop, Dr. Jürgen Deckert)
- Joint Programme „GBIF-D, Centre of Expertise in Innovative Data Mobilisation" – Project 4 (MfN): Digital Research Infrastructure and Services for the Research Fields of Entomology and Palaeontology (BMBF) (Dr. Christoph Häuser, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kiessling)
- Historic Wet Collection at the Museum für Naturkunde (KUR) – KUR-Programme 'Conservation and Restoration of Mobile Cultural Heritage' (Kulturstiftungen des Bundes und der Länder) (Dr. Birger Neuhaus)
- SYNTHESYS (Dr. Carsten Lüter)