“Hierarchy works well in a stable environment.”

My traineeship was extended for mainly one reason: like all museums, Hereford’s has a documentation backlog that needs to be tackled. I am glad to lend a hand getting some of the valuable data on the system. I am specifically working on two areas: sorting out and adding to the geology information on the database; and working on the backlog with both the Natural History and Costume & Textiles curators.

I have mainly been doing the former over the last two months and it’s been an interesting process. Fully getting to grips with the database (and all of its fascinating quirks); learning about various hitherto-unknown aspects of geology (mainly Herefordshire specifics); deciphering previous contributor’s cryptic entries; wading through the duplicate terms (on a variety of different hierarchy levels); checking ambiguous information against trusted sources as well as the specimens themselves (if I could find them); and finally being in control of a subsequently robust database that can (hopefully) be added to by anyone, regardless of the level of their geology prowess.

My biggest task so far has been reorganising some of the hierarchies within the geology data; the geological time scale (lithostratigraphy/geochronology) as well as the taxonomic one. Previously, both had multiple entries of a given term (often with many different spellings) at several points within the hierarchy. All of those (and the levels in between) had specimens associated with them. This made searching for material almost impossible.

For example, if you wanted to search for bivalves you would need to look at the following branches within “Mollusca”:

  • “Bivalve”;
  • “Bivalves”;
  • “Bivalvia”;
  • “Lamellibranchia”; and
  • “Pelecypods”.

The fun bit is that there were two other instances of “Bivalve” elsewhere: one within “Bivalve” itself and the other was unranked. All of these terms contained either: actual specimens attached directly to them; further divisions of the class; or a mix of both (which continues down the hierarchy). I am glad to say that this is no longer the case. Within “Mollusca” there is now simply “Bivalvia”. Within that are the relevant subclasses, then orders, and so on. It’s beautiful.

Now that I have done the same thing to all branches across the geological time scales and taxonomic levels, I am ready to transcribe the paper records onto the database. It’s proving much easier than it was before since everything is in order and organised. When a new term comes up I simply rank it accordingly, continually improving the tidy and clean geology database.

Here are some screenshots of what I’ve been doing (apologies for the poor quality):

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2 thoughts on ““Hierarchy works well in a stable environment.”

  1. Wowser. I am impressed both by your shameless enjoyment of a good list and by your prowess with academic terms. My social history brain essentially lumps all those time periods together into ‘really old’.

    • Ha, thanks. I had a hard time on Archaeology Day: anything under a few million years old struck me as practically new despite children screaming about how ANCIENT it all was. I was thinking “it really isn’t old AT ALL”. Isn’t perspective strange…?

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