The following blog was written by Connie Ma, a placement student in the Herbarium.

As part of my MSc History of Art, Theory and Display programme at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), I have had the privilege of working at the Herbarium every Friday for my student placement. I am excited and delighted to share with you the progress of my work placement and delve into the fascinating world of botanical illustrations

Dried moss specimen with coloured sketch
Holotype of Hookeria flavescens Hook. & Grev. with coloured sketch by R.K. Greville. (E00011926)

Within the framework of my project, I have embarked upon a thorough exploration of the nuanced realm of botanical illustrations, with a particular emphasis on the oeuvre of Robert Kaye Greville, an esteemed British botanist and bryologist celebrated for his meticulously rendered depictions of plant specimens. Predominantly centred on bryological specimens, Greville’s illustrations have provided a rich source of inspiration and research material.

The inaugural phase of my project necessitated searching and retrieving specimens relevant to Greville’s illustration, each specimen accompanied by evocative illustrations that encapsulate the essence of botanical magnificence. From masterfully executed watercolour renditions to intricately detailed pencil sketches, Greville’s oeuvre serves as a testament to the profound beauty and multifaceted diversity inherent within the plant kingdom.

Dried moss specimen with pencil sketch
Isotype of Calymperes hobsonii Grev. with pencil sketch by R.K. Greville. (E00226270)

After the retrieval of the specimens, which was done using a list that had been compiled in the past, I initiated the process of databasing the specimens in Specify 7, the designated collection management system of the Herbarium. This endeavour demanded precision to ensure that the information put into into Specify 7 harmonised with the minutiae inscribed on the specimen’s labels, encompassing crucial data such as the collector’s name and the year of collection. One of the pivotal tasks in the process of databasing was to include details of the artistic medium employed in the illustrations. I systematically undertook data entry for approximately 79 specimens, with plans underway to extend this process to the remaining specimens in due course.

Screenshot of data entry screen
Data entry in Specify 7

Currently, I am immersed in the critical task of cross-referencing, a considerable phase during which I add specimen details into the Library cataloguing system known as KOHA. At the heart of this phase lies the essential task of aligning the unique barcode generated within KOHA with its corresponding KOHA ID in Specify 7, thereby ensuring the integration between the Library’s cataloguing system and the Herbarium’s data management system. Moreover, I incorporate the unique identifier URL from the Herbarium Catalogue into Koha, which facilitates public access to comprehensive information regarding each specimen.

Screenshot of data entry screen
Data entry in Specify 7

As I traverse further along the trajectory of exploration into Greville’s botanical illustrations, I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to contribute to the preservation and meticulous documentation of these invaluable artefacts. I extend my gratitude to all those who have accompanied me on this intellectual voyage thus far, and eagerly anticipate sharing further insights and developments in the days to come.

Connie Ma, April 2024.