What is the definition for our purposes (minimal and sufficient criteria) of a natural history collection?
I agree with @qgroom, @mswoodburn and others in topic 2.2 that given the vast diversity of specimen types and perspectives on what is conceptionalized as an individual collection (possibly as a subset of the union of several other collections it may be hard to come up with necessary or sufficient criteria to define natural history collection. The (provisional?) definition from TDWG CD quoted by
could be a start both with regard to necessary and sufficient conditions . However, even this generic definition may run into problems. The Naturkundemuseum Berlin, for example, hosts the Animal Sound Archive. These recordings aren’t usually categorized as physical or material objects. They are information artifacts which can be copied from one physical bearer to another. Nonetheless, we regard it as an (important) natural history collection.
If I had to come up with a definition it would, provisionally, be this:
Natural history collection =def= A collection whose constituent parts (a) are derived from participant entities of natural processes and (b) have been collected to study properties of such processes.
The clause (b) is added to exclude cultural artifacts collections of e.g., wooden sculptures, stamps and historical weapons which are, at least in any conventional sense, not collected or designed to study the natural processes that brought their constituent parts into being.
This definition probably is as problematic as certain others. How important, in the context of the catalogue, is it really to have one? An informal description that conveys the intuitive understanding of “natural history collection” and intended use of the catalogue may be adequate, especially if the governance model allows for self-identification and self-governance of entries by participating institutions. It is, in my view, better to be more inclusive than restrictive with regard to grey area collections.
How do collections relate to and differ from institutions?
A collection is administered / held / owned by an institution.
- An institution is an agent, usually a corporate body. Compared to collections, institutions belong to a materially distinct type of entity. Even if the holdings of an institution are identified as a single collection, the two entities should be represented separately.
- At the whole-enterprise level, it is not uncommon to have the term “XYZ collection” denote the institution and at the same time the entirety of this institution’s collections.
- An institution might administer a multitude of collections that are interrelated in various ways, notably by an overlap of the specimens accounted for in individual collections.
- There might be cases where administration and ownership of a collection could be distinguished (specific use cases?). Who administers a given collection (and should be contacted about the collection) might, in the context of the catalogue, be more pertinent.
How do collections relate to and differ from datasets?
Collections are original entities, datasets are information about something. A dataset can be about a collection or some of its constituent parts. A collection can be represented in a dataset. In certain cases, the only manifestation of a collection may be in the form of information artifacts / datasets, e.g. digitally encoded animal sound recordings, i.e. without physical preparations.
How do collections relate to and differ from collecting events (e.g. expeditions)?
Collections are related to collecting events by virtue of the collection items which are part of the collection. Any collection item that is part of a given collection was collected - or is derived from one or more items that were collected - in the course of one or more collecting events.
Collections and collecting events are materially different types of entities. The latter is an event that has happened during some interval of time. The former is an object that keeps an identity over time (but may change over time with regard to its constituent parts).
- In a variety of contexts the term “collection” is used to refer to collecting events or to collections as sets of items administered by an institution (each of which has been collected in a collecting event).
- The collecting event from which an item originates may be unknown.
Collecting events may be nested or have other relations holding between them. An expedition, as a complex collecting event spanning months or years, may have numerous individual collecting events as parts (for which there might be detailed information pertaining to certain items in the collection relating to the expedition as overarching collecting event).
- It might be challenging to actually define the original collecting event, especially when aiming to distinguish it from subsequent relocation or processing (like preservation or preparation). Intuitively, the collection event is the process in the history of a specimen for which there is no prior process of preservation or preparation. That initial event may be inseparable from processes that aim to preserve the material.
Should the following categories be included, or are there important linkages or opportunities that should still be considered?
- Geological and paleontological collections
- Anthropological collections
- Ethnobotanical collections
- Wood collections (xylaria)
- Tissue banks, DNA repositories and slide collections
- Living collections (microbial collections, zoos, aquaria, botanic gardens, seed banks)
- Personal collections
All of these fit the definition given above and should, in a more inclusive perspective on the catalogue advocated above, be eligible for inclusion.s