Universiteit Leiden

The Brugmans Nautilus
The Brugmans Nautilus Preserved specimen of a squid (photo Esther Dondorp)

Knobbed argonaut is the intriguing name of this Indian Ocean squid. It was Sebald Brugmans, Leiden professor and Rector, who acquired it in the 18th century. Brugmans (1763-1819) spent years painstakingly expanding his collection. After his death, the University bought the collection for the then astronomical sum of 34,000 guilders. At that time, it was common for collections to be sold in their entirety after the death of the passionate collector. Museums barely existed and surviving relatives did not receive a pension, so they often needed money.

Rice from Suriname
Rice from Suriname Rice plant, cultivated from black rice seeds from Parimaribo

In Suriname, rice is more than food alone. Rice plants were also used during ancestral rites. Ethnobotanist and Professor Tine van Andel has spent the past few years researching the rice plant in the photo. Genetic analysis showed that the seeds of this plant originate from Ivory Coast, and were brought by enslaved Africans. Colonialism and slavery prove to play a role even with an apparently ‘neutral’ plant. Van Andel advocates the ‘decolonisation’ of collections: digitisation makes research material available to the countries of origin.

Melon cactus
Melon cactus Bonaire, 1930 (photo Esther Dondorp)

Classifications are not just lists of species; they reflect a person’s theories about natural diversity. Herbarium director Willem Suringar (1832-1898) paid considerable attention to the development of a system for this Caribbean cactus genus. Naturalis has 155 boxes of Suringar’s melon cacti. He identified 80 different species here. Nowadays, some scientists see 40 species, while others see only one. Apparently, science is never finished. It just depends what criteria the scientist uses.