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Abstract Detail

NOT your average specimen!

Struwe, Lena [1].

Specimen Stories: Student exploration of places, plants, and people using herbaria.

Scientists working with natural history collections know that specimens are unique, likely invaluable, and also irreplaceable. They carry information about taxonomic identify, morphology, DNA, and chemistry, and are linked to all other living (and dead) organisms through the tree of life on Earth. But this, even if important, can be still too abstract for many university students and hard to grasp and personalize. In this talk I will describe how a new model of student research into the individual story of a specimen can be used to understand the broad and deep value of natural history collections, while also creating a personal connection and a unique research product. The Specimen Stories Project, implemented at Rutgers University in 2020, focuses on the Plant, Person, and Place data associated with and united through an individual museum specimen. What is mounted on a herbarium sheet represents a snapshot in time. What can we learn about the person that collected that plant at that place at that time? What happened to the collector, who were they? What was going on at that time? Why was this species in that location? Why might have it been collected? What happened to the place? Has the landscape changed? Could this still be collected there? What is the specimen’s total story? To start, each student selects an older (20+ years) specimen with full date, collector, and locality information. Students investigate the three themes (Plant, Person, Place) by using a broad variety of resources, from simple google search of innovative keywords, to historical maps, floristic works, genealogy and obituaries, newspapers, other specimens from the same day, same collector, or same place (using iDigBio, Bionomia). One theme might not yield much information; another might lead down a sidetrack, either is fine. This open-ended project is full of risk and surprises for students and teachers. Students may include screenshots, images, maps, and obscure facts in their research report. The most interesting reports can be posted on the herbarium’s website (with the student’s consent) for public engagement and sharing. Students have returned novel information and value, new biographic data about collectors and their careers, and highlighted contemporary change in our floras and landscapes. This project provides cross-disciplinary linkages to curricula in Geography, History, Public Planning, Arts, Media and Communication, and Natural Resources. The worksheet is available on

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Related Links:
Botany Depot
Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers University

1 - Rutgers University, Ecology, Evolution, & Natural Resources, 237 Foran Hall, 59 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, NJ, 08901, United States

natural history
museum studies
engaged learning
Scientific communication

Presentation Type: Special Sessions
Session: SS1, NOT your average specimen! (Papers)
Location: /
Date: Tuesday, July 20th, 2021
Time: 12:30 PM(EDT)
Number: SS1001
Abstract ID:529
Candidate for Awards:None

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