Interview: Working in the Archive II

Research assistant Fiona Möhrle has been working on registering Blandowski’s drawings in the internal database of the Historische Arbeitsstelle at the MfN. Here, she reflects on the insights she gained while meticulously examining the drawings and their context.

What has been the biggest insight in doing this work?
What fascinates me about Blandowski’s collection is its extent. Although only a fraction of the original material survived, there still are hundreds of drawings and texts. It is amazing how many drawings Blandowski and Krefft produced in a relatively short time. However, with so many drawings and scattered texts, it is also difficult to reconstruct the system behind the collection. There are various number systems and several arrangements in portfolios that are not explained properly and their meaning is lost to us now. Only a detailed study of Blandowski’s material in its various holding institutions would make a deeper understanding possible. Entering the drawings in a database is only the first step in making this collection accessible. The amount of work this takes – even for a single drawing – opened my eyes. It explains why so many collections and objects are not digitally accessible yet.

Which drawing surprised you the most and why?
Not the drawing itself, but a drawing in combination with a text really surprised me. While I was working on a page with some sketches of snakes (most likely by Krefft, not Blandowski) (MfN, HBSB, B001-03 197), I deciphered the writing next to the drawing of a snake, which Blandowski names ‘Olive-blackish-banded snake’, and for which he provides the Jari Jari name “Cournvil”. Since Blandowski’s handwriting is not the neatest and old handwriting styles are a bit challenging, it took me a moment to get the whole message:

“Am L. Boga trat / ich auf diese Schlange / mit beiden Füßen / gleichzeitig ohne daß / ich wußte, daß dieses / gefährliche Thier unter / meinen Füßen für / ihre Freiheit sich be- / mühte. Sehr gefährlich”

Blandowski describes accidentally stepping on the depicted snake – a highly poisonous one! Thankfully, he was not hurt but this must have been a very upsetting event. He also mentions this incident in one of his articles on his research:

“At Lake Boga I was exposed to some danger in presence of my men, by a very poisonous snake, on which I had inadvertently placed my feet.” (Blandowski 135)

Making that connection between event, drawing and article demonstrated to me the importance of examining the drawings together with the texts by Blandowski. Information gets lost when only one of the two is looked at.

Blandowski papers: Olive-blackish-banded snake (detail). Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. HBSB, B001-03 197.


Blandowski, Wilhelm. „Recent Discoveries in Natural History on the Lower Murray.“ Transactions of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, Nr. 2, 1857, S. 124–37, Kartei „B“, S. 20.

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