My apologies for not updating sooner. My latest project has me working in the bowels of the Herbarium. Down a spiral staircase in the Herbarium tower is where the Materia Medica collection is kept. The collection is something like a cross between a Victorian pharmacy and an Ethnobotanist’s store room. The collection is kept in the Herbarium as most of the medicinal specimens consist of plant material, though we also have powdered cockroaches and medicinal leeches! Many of the specimens have not been documented, and we weren’t even sure what we had when we started. I’ve been adopted as the collection’s researcher and curator and I’ve made some exciting discoveries only a month or so into the project, including a calabash filled with curare, a bottle of sperm whale oil and some rare and endangered plants. There is still a whole cupboard of large specimens that will be tackled in the coming weeks.
Each specimen is being carefully documented on the collections management system, and star objects are being chosen. The Materia Medica is an anomaly in the Manchester Museum, as it overlaps several disciplines: medicine, botany, zoology, social history amd ethnography. At the Linnean Society’s recent plenary meeting about The Role of Museums and Collections in Biological Recording, it was mentioned that “Some of [museum’s] target audiences may be missed because social history in natural history collections gets overlooked.” There are many opportunities to engage with audiences through this route as we find out more about the collection.
As the project moves forward, I will be showcasing an object a day (every weekday) from the stores on Pinterest. There will also be more blogposts to come about the project.
I’ll be working on the collection for the next 5 months. If you have any questions at all about it please direct them to me here.