Ranee Tiwari, Polly Parry and Julie Harvey from the Museum are currently visiting the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden in Kolkata, India (formerly Calcutta) to collaborate on a project that combines science and history. They are working on the plant collections and correspondence of Nathaniel Wallich who held the post of Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden in the early 19th Century, part of a project involving the National Archives of India, the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden, the NHM, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the British Library.
The NHM collections have developed over the past three centuries as a resource and reference for current scientific research, but always as part of a wider network of collaboration between museums, universities and botanical gardens in many different countries. Information and specimens are constantly added to ensure that the collections reflect the best modern understanding of diversity and evolution. However, they have a wider value: the gradual development of the collection reflects and captures all sorts of information and evidence of historical, social and economic interest.
Nathaniel Wallich's work, including botanical collections, watercolour drawings and correspondence is an invaluable scientific and historical resource for researchers and botanists around the world. He was central to the development of Indian botanical collections for a period, and exchanged specimens and letters with collaborators in different parts of the world: a quick search of the NHM botany collection database online shows Wallich as the named collector for more than 2,200 specimens. This collaborative project will trace Wallich materials in different organisations and develop a website resource for public and research use.
Wallich was Danish, born in Copenhagen, but moved to the Danish settlement at Serampore in Bengal. This was captured by the British East India Company shortly afterwards, Wallich and other Danes were employed by the Company: Wallich in the botanical garden from 1809, where he eventually became Superintendent at a period of prolific collection of plants from across Indian and neighbouring territories.
The long history of museum collections means that there is huge potential for research in the Arts and Humanities. In addition to their modern value, specimens and archives reflect past views of the world and are often associated with particular social or political developments, or with particular figures of both scientific and broader interest. This resource is used by historians, anthropologists, artists and others for particular projects and the Museum has set up a specialist NHM Centre for Arts and Humanities Research to focus, support and develop these activities.