Only about one percent of the University of South Carolina’s natural history collections is on display at the school’s McKissick Museum. Which makes it difficult for historians, naturalists or even curious amateurs to see the extensive collections gathered over more than 200 years.
The school is putting that collection online with the help of federal grants, including the latest round announced last month which will help add additional museums in South Carolina to the growing database.
“What we wanted to do was really create a way to look up these objects and not have to go to all these different organizations to find the information,” collections curator Christian Cicimurri said. “But we’ll compile all of this information in an online database.”
Historic Southern Naturalists: Bringing Southern History and Natural History Together Online has generated more than 2,500 digital images of 1,400 objects and archives, all available online through a searchable database. A new $460,000 grant will also allow the team to finish work and expand its uploaded collections to include objects from the Charleston Museum.
USC’s collection dates back to the early 19th century, when the state purchased then-college president Thomas Cooper’s fossils and mineral specimens. It also includes documents and manuscripts throughout collection’s history
Cicimurri said 99 percent of the collection is in storage right now. “You’d need a lot of room to put 100 percent of your collection out of storage,” she said. “But things like light and environmental conditions can also deteriorate objects, especially sensitive things.”
The McKissick Museum recently installed wall-mounted touch screens giving visitors an interactive experience with these collections and exhibits.
The grant will help pay for the project manager and students who are taking high-definition photographs of each object and uploading it into the database. Cicimurri said the photos will show enough detail for historians to essentially feel like they are holding it in front of them without having to travel into South Carolina’s storage rooms.