Museums Ease Research with New Online Natural History Collections

Mar 15, 2019

A growing new website is now available that enables both scholars and the public to access photos and information about the natural history of South Carolina. 

The site, begun by the University of South Carolina's McKissick Museum with a grant, contains the collections of three (for the time being) historic South Carolina naturalists.  Information and photos of specimens, initially of plants, but also other natural specimens.  The "Southern Naturalists' Project" will allow researchers to find information on thousands of natural specimens in one place, rather than searching between collections and departments and institutions spread statewide, said McKissick Curator of Collections Christian Cicimurri.  At present, only about one percent of McKissick's extensive natural history collection is on display. 

"Our goal is to take extremely high-quality, high-resolution images so that lay people, or even scientific researchers, can zoom in so that what they're looking at online is sometimes better than what you can see on the actual specimen."

An example is a 19th century seashell collection than is planned to be added to the site. Many of the shells are very small, but with high magnification, the beautiful details of these objects can be observed and enjoyed.  

McKissick is working with the Charleston Museum to put its artifacts related to the three naturalists - Thomas Cooper, Louis Reeves Gibbs and Andrew Charles Moore - online, as well.    Matthew Gibson of the Charleston Museum said another advantage of the website is that it will be able to display artifacts too delicate to be included in a museum exhibit, so the public will be able to access objects that otherwise might never be seen.  

After the plant and seashell collections are digitized, Cicimurri said McKissick will add collections of meteorites, fossils, moths and butterflies.  The online collections also will include not only natural specimens but artifacts related to the naturalists themselves, such as Thomas Cooper's cane, silver spoon and inkwell.

Cicimurri said because McKissick will continue to add collections and specimens, and perhaps collections of other museums in the future, the site could keep growing indefinitely, adding more and more to the state's - and world's - wealth of knowledge.