BI2CM6-Natural History Collection Management and Care

Module Provider: School of Biological Sciences
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Amanda Callaghan


Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module is designed as a general introduction to the history, theory, ethics and practice of collecting natural history specimens for use in research, teaching and public display. Content will cover conservation of museum specimens, the importance of cataloguing, methods of storing specimens, ethics of collection including international law, the history of natural history museums, and the interpreting and display of natural history collections. The module is based on work with objects from the School of Biological Sciences zoology and herbarium collections and possibly from material collected on the campus. Students will be tasked with the collection and/or virtual display of specimens using the theory and methodology covered in the module. The module will include visiting an external natural history collection.


The aims of this module are to give students an overview of the methods used by natural history collection professionals to conserve, store, catalogue, and research objects and communicate their meaning to the general public. Students will develop an ability to critically evaluate museum displays and improve their written communication skills.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of this module it is expected that students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the principles of collections management with reference to the published literature.

  • Apply these principles in cataloguing, labelling, and interpreting a specific group of specimens.

  • Be able to write for different audiences.

  • Demonstrate practical skills in the conservation and display of specimens.

  • Understand the scientific basis for the methods used.

Additional outcomes:

Students will develop their observational and recording (or identification) botanical or zoological skills through in-depth analysis of specimens.    Through planning their assessed tasks students will develop their time management, networking, information literacy and problem solving skills.

Outline content:

We have all visited natural history collections and many people are excited at the prospect of working in a museum. However few understand the work that is undertaken to maintain or exhibit material or the context of the collection. This module is both a practical and theoretical introduction to the research and management of archival specimens.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module content includes lectures on integrated pest management; practicals on methods in specimen conservation, including working with insects and shells, animals or plants preserved in fluid; dried botanical specimens, taxidermy and bones. In lectures it will introduce the theory of cataloguing and cover collection management issues. We will also undertake some group work to look at exhibition design, including theoretical and ethical issues associated with display text and critically analyse museum displays.  


This module will be taught in association with the Cole Museum of Zoology and the Herbarium, both of which are housed in the School of Biological Sciences. Lectures will introduce theory and practice while practical classes will teach methodology. The module will include a visit to a museum with natural history specimens outside of the University (probably the OUNHM).


This is a 10 credit module, which means that it is intended to occupy you for 100 hours of work. Although this is a stand-alone module, it is a pre-requisite for a final year project using the Cole museum.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 12
Seminars 2
Demonstration 4
Practicals classes and workshops 20
External visits 4
Guided independent study 58
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 60
Practical skills assessment 20
Class test administered by School 20

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

20% class test –   written test on comprehension of lectures.

20% practical task.

60% display design, catalogue entry, labels and accompanying 1,500 word essay on display rationale and background. 

Formative assessment methods:

Group work to discuss the use of text and language in museum display. Students will be divided into groups to critically analyse a series of museum texts and designs.

Research with specimens will be supported by specialist staff. Staff will assist students in navigating catalogues and accessing original materials.  

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Re-sit of class test (written section only) and coursework in August

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 20 April 2018


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