Digitally Unlocking Nature’s Archive

A watercolour illustration of the fish Mesoprion gibbus from Andrew Garrett's book Fische der Südsee

At a glance

Transcribing unique historical documents from the Museum’s Library and Archives collections

Type of activity: Online

Who can take part? Everyone

When? Any time

How long will it take? 5-20 minutes per entry

No collections currently open for transcribing

There are no collections currently available to transcribe on DUNA, but we hope to make new collections available in the near future.

Help us to release the valuable data locked in the handwritten documents, illustrations and artwork collections of the Museum's Library and Archives.

Why we are doing the project

The Museum's Library and Archives is the national resource for natural historians, researchers, artists and academics.

A rich reservoir of scientific, historical and social research data is locked in the handwritten documents, illustrations and artwork collections. Through our Digitally Unlocking Nature’s Archive (DUNA) project, we are harnessing the power of the crowd to unleash this data via tools such as transcription and tagging. This will make it digitally discoverable, accessible and open to all for the first time.

We will be continually adding more collections for transcription and tagging as the project develops.

How to take part

1. Visit Digitally Unlocking Nature’s Archive on the website

2. (Optional) Register as a member of Zooniverse to track your efforts

3. Follow the instructions to transcribe the pages

  • Previous collections that have been transcribed

    • Something fishy: the original drawings and manuscript descriptions of South Sea Fishes by Andrew Garrett (1823-1887)
      The manuscript pages in this collection accompany 489 original watercolour drawings of South Sea fishes completed by the self-taught American naturalist Andrew Garrett. His Fische der Südsee was published in German, but the original manuscripts are mostly in English, making them a valuable original source to be transcribed and made more widely available.
    • A Mineralogical Marvel: original drawings of minerals by Francois Louis Desfountaines Swebach (fl.1769)
      This workflow invites volunteers to assist with the transcription of the French manuscript text that accompanies over 200 original watercolour drawings of mineral specimens by the self-taught artist, sculptor, engraver, painter and mineralogist Francois Louis Desfountaines Swebach.
    • Lists, lists, lists! Original manuscript catalogues and inventories of the natural world
      A catalogue of a collection of plants presented to prominent botanist and collector Joseph Banks by Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798) and Georg Forster (1754-1794), who travelled as naturalists on James Cook’s second voyage between 1772 and 1775. And a catalogue of engraved copper plates created by Robert Brown (1773-1858) who was employed by Banks in his herbarium and library.
    • Beautiful Botany: original botanical artworks and manuscript descriptions by Elizabeth Twining (1805-1889)
      Elizabeth Twining was the daughter of the tea merchant Richard Twining II (1772-1857). She travelled widely, both abroad and around England. Painting the local landscapes and their floras, she became both a competent botanist and talented portraitist of plants and flowers.
      This volume of her original watercolours and botanical notes formed the basis of an ambitious two volume folio publication titled the Natural Orders of Plants (1849-55) which she both illustrated and lithographed.

Project team

  • Andrea Hart, Head of the Special Collections and Archives Division
  • Ceri Humphries, Digital Special Collections Librarian
  • Lisa Cardy, Head of Researcher Services and Digital Delivery
  • Ben Nathan, Digitisation Technician

Contact the team at: