On my bookshelf

Natural History Collecting by Reg Harris
Mark Carnall
A colleague brought back this book as a gift from a field trip to Australia.

Reg Harris was the curator, then called a senior experimental officer, at University College London (UCL) and was in charge of the collection that is now called the Grant Museum of Zoology. Oddly, Reg is credited as working at “a well-known scientific establishment in London”.

The book, published in 1969, is part an introduction to natural history, part animal husbandry and part handbook for the amateur collector. The advice on offer is practical and written in a very methodological language.

It is unlikely that this little book would get published today with modern sensitivities about collecting from the natural world. There are also issues raised by recommending that amateurs take to the field with alcohol, formaldehyde and other essential collecting items that today’s parents may frown on.

My favourite parts of the book include a whole paragraph on how to skin a rabbit (you may have to cut through the nose); the description of a wild cat – it “is always more or less striped than the domestic wild cat”; and the practicalities of where to keep small collections – “perhaps a bench by a window in the school laboratory, or part of a bookshelf or even a series of drawers in a cupboard”.

Reg then notes that, whatever form a small collection takes, “there must be order and method”. Sound advice indeed.

Mark Carnall is a curator at the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, UCL

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