It’s been a busy couple of weeks with the launch of our new herbarium sessions. These sessions use drawing to document and present the students’ own explorations of the collections right in the heart of where they are stored and organised.
The idea behind it was to be able to offer schools and colleges the chance to come into the museum for a whole day of cross curricular learning, half a day making art in the herbarium and half a day doing hands-on science in the Life Lab. It was about the breadth of opportunities that the museum has to offer while still looking at where different disciplines overlap. So the herbarium session was framed by the idea of collecting and classification by reviewing the history of classification right up to how we can classify things by their DNA, and the lab session allowed students to learn about the applications of DNA and carry out their own simplified DNA extraction technique.
I met Botany Curator, Leander Wolstenholme, and Botany Curatorial Assistants, Suzanne Grieve and Lindsey Loughtman, to think about our roles in the session and about how we would use the herbarium space. I went up to the herbarium twice before the session and spoke first with Leander, and then with Suzanne and Lindsey. Leander has a scientific background and we discussed how he might best introduce the idea of classification and DNA as part of that. Leander couldn’t make the second meeting which was about choosing which objects we were going to use to highlight the various areas of the collection. However, talking with Suzanne and Lindsey gave the session a new dimension because they pointed out their backgrounds as being in history and environmental science respectively, rather than botany and, as such, approached the collections in a different way. Whereas Leander maintains the scientific classification of the collections, sometimes by dividing up collections made by one collector into their various plant groups, Suzanne noted that she enjoys the stories that one collector’s work might be able to tell, and that there is a project going on at the moment to bring one collector’s work back together.
As part of the session, inspired by what someone said at the recent Museums Association conference, we decided to introduce some of the objects by asking Leander, Suzanne and Lindsey to talk about why they had chosen them and what they thought was special about them. We thought this would be a good way not only to give the students a feel for the stories behind some of the collection, but also to start thinking about how the collections can be interpreted in different ways by different people, scientists, historians, and artists – to name just a few.
The sessions worked well with Art Historian, Jen Ashton, and I leading students to investigate artists who had previously made work by reseaching the museum’s collections and to make their own work, and with Leander, Lyndsey and Suzanne giving an introduction to what has and does happen in the herbarium, and supporting the students to explore the collections for themselves. More on that later…