Compiled by Geoffrey Ainsworth and edited by John Webster and David Moore, this book was released to mark the centenary of the British Mycological Society in 1996. A rather attractive volume, it provides summarised insights into the lives of those involved with the study and collection of fungi.
I own multiple copies of ths book. Mycology, like many activities focused on collection and collation of objects and records, has been a largely amateur pursuit and therefore the records of many mycologists, be they butchers or ironmongers, are often difficult to find. Brief Biographies is my first port of call when I want to to uncover their stories and understand their work.
As museums and institutions with historically important collections, we are rightly tuned to the needs of the present. We conduct surveys on how to shape the museum for the public today and anticipate the audience of tomorrow. And yet, there is also a duty to those who have built the collections and whose life’s work we are entrusted to maintain for future use. It is this duty that is perhaps the most difficult, with motivations and meanings increasingly rendered opaque by time.
Books such as this remind us that the collectors were people with everyday lives and human flaws. In presenting their histories, Brief Biographies, like the collectors it represents, is a triumph of the mundane.
Nathan Smith is the Fungarium operations manager at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew