Citizen Scientists Creating Knowledge: Report on a Collaborative Transcription Workshop – Part Ill: The Project

After learning old German script (Kurrent) and Sandra Miehlbradt’s introduction to the overall structure and the duties of the Historical Division of the Natural History Museum, the next part of our transcription workshop concentrated on material related to one particular research project, namely “Berlin’s Australian Archive”.

In our third session, Dr Bischoff gave a short presentation on its key questions and the naturalists whose collections stand in its focus. Apart from Wilhelm von Blandowski, Gerhard Krefft and Ferdinand von Müller this includes Richard Schomburgk. All of them were born around the 1800s to 1820s and influenced by Alexander von Humboldt’s work and philosophy.

Moritz Richard Schomburgk @Wikimedia Commons

For our transcription workshop, (Moritz) Richard Schomburgk (1811-1891) will be most relevant. He joined his brother Robert (Hermann) Schomburgk (1804-1865) on an expedition to British Guiana and Brazil. Richard’s travel report would later be published in three volumes under the book title “Reisen in Britisch-Guiana in den Jahren 1840-1844” (Traveling in British Guiana from 1840 to 1844). Because of the political turmoil following the revolution of 1848, Richard Schomburgk and his brother Otto (Alfred) Schomburgk (1810 -1857) emigrated to South Australia. They settled at Buchfelde near Adelaide. At the time, South Australia pursued an almost utopian idea of colonization: There were to be no white convicts and the colonizers strived to “civilize” the Indigenous population in a supposedly caring and humanitarian manner.

Richard Schomburgk held a key position for the development of South Australia: In 1865, he became Director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and completely restructured it. He established a teaching garden, built for testing possible cultivation of European plants in Australia for farming purposes. Schomburgk also advocated afforestation, thereby implementing new knowledge in a colonial setting by drawing on German forestry. He tasked other naturalists with collecting information on and specimen of the Australian flora and fauna.

In the next couple of weeks, our workshop takes a closer look at Richard Schomburgk’s handwritten travel report on the expedition to British Guiana and Brazil. Here, Schomburgk learned how to work with Indigenous peoples. To what extent he applied these lessons in his later life in Australia will be part of the investigations of the research project. A first and important step will be a comparison between the handwritten and the published version of the travel report. This is particularly important since references to Indigenous sources of knowledge were often omitted in the published text.

In transcribing the handwritten report, Dr Bischoff emphasized, participants of our workshop act as citizen scientists. They make a valuable contribution to the ongoing research project “Berlin’s Australian Archive”. In collaborating with academic researchers, they produce new knowledge for science and for society. Since most research projects today are funded for only a very limited period (2-3 years) and transcriptions are very labour and time intensive, the role of citizen scientists is becoming ever more important. Simultaneously, this form of collaboration compels academic scientists and institutions to communicate their aims and methods to an interested public.

Anna Rudi



Cite this blog post
blog admin (2022, November 23). Citizen Scientists Creating Knowledge: Report on a Collaborative Transcription Workshop – Part Ill: The Project. Berlin's Australian Archive. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/n05v

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