Note: Data-mining mineralogy
How to navigate a museum database of more than 200.000 stones? Can we “data-mine” the minerals collection of the museum for natural history in Berlin?
This historical label in the mineralogy collection of the museum for natural history in Berlin contains a variety of information. Some of it related to the minerals as natural history specimens, but much of it also relates to provenance: dates and names. Apart from this scan, the complete data on the label is not released publicly (yet), but has been transcribed and included in the internal database of the museum. I received a copy of this database from Ralf-Thomas Schmitt, the head of the mineralogy collection, for digital exploration, and he also communicated important insights into the collectors related to stones from Namibia which helped me to explore this data set.
The current public data portal of the museum is oriented towards natural classification and geodata, as you can see if you follow the link above and compare the information on the historical label to what is provided as data through the interface. In the mineral hall of the museum we see a similiar situation, the stones and their places of origin are written on little signs, but the other information is invisible.
The data on these historical labels provides insights into mineralogy in the German colony Deutsch Südwestafrika (which is now Namibia). A network of owners related to Namibia under colonial rule can be mapped, by pulling the transcribed information of the labels from the database and processing it a bit, for example splitting names and dates into seperate columns, a process of data cleaning.
Looking at historical labels of stones from Namibia, we then can map a network in this collection from ca. 1904 to 1936, around Ernst Reuning, former director of the Kolonialgesellschaft Deutsch Südwest-Afrika, which was holding the mining rights in Southern Namibia. He was drawing a map of the coastal area, in preparation of extraction of natural ressources, two years after the war and genocide committed by the Germans against the Herero and Nama in Namibia. In the following two decades he continued to search and map mineral regions to extract. In 1929 he returned to Germany for an academic position, only to leave again in 1935 and moving to South-Africa, which results in parts of his collection entering the museum in Berlin in 1936.
Neither the provenance nor the dates are visible in the mineralogy hall, therefore my input at the workshop “Mining Colonial Museums” at the Berlin Science Week Campus sought to explore this data and by that make a bit more visible an aspect of colonial history in this room: