This is a very important question and an increasingly significant area of collection practice, and one which cultural collections have been looking at closely. The decolonising work of the metadata teams at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Royal Library Denmark can be interesting to study in this regard. Biological collections and their attendant data have many critically important functions and values, and their historical and cultural value are among these.
Historical values would include the contexts (social, political, economic) in which materials were collected, and this would also mean place names which change over time. In some cases, especially for biological materials that were collected before it was common practice to give exact locations to collection sites and fieldwork, retaining the colonial name can even help to attribute a more precise location to materials, since it gives historical contexts that can be helpful clues. This would be among the science reasons to retain these colonial names as well as local names and geolocation parameters. It would be critical to create data fields to retain this contextual information, and not to discard it entirely, in my opinion.
In terms of your example in particular, Samoa and the Pacific Islands in the 1800s is a significant time/place. There were a range of colonial actors in the area at that time – German, American, British, and more. Sometimes the reasons for collecting materials were driven by state colonial aspirations and sometimes by hybrids with commercial agents. This can influence what gets collected and therefore what we understand today of the biodiversity of the time/place.
I have been researching the natural history collecting and sales schemes of the Hamburg ‘Museum Godeffroy’ (1861-1885) in Samoa and the Pacific: Godeffroy duplicates can be found in most European nathist collections, and each duplicate will have a diverse range of data connected to it on top of the info given by Museum Godeffroy at the time. Dates and places will always matter to biology: I believe it is important to retain this contextual information even if other valuable information such as local names and precise geolocation is also appended.
These areas of practice are a good example of where, when and how humanities researchers and biological researchers can and should work together to both assist each others’ research and design useful database architectures. It would be great to have a working group to look at this and other areas where collaboration could be fruitful. I recently organised a panel discussion about historical and contemporary data collection, design and use which included archivists, historians, and biodiversity informaticians to look at shared issues: Semantics and Beyond: Modeling and enriching longue-durée biocultural data for answering interdisciplinary and epistemic research questions.
Thank you for bringing this to the table!