Division of Biology and Medicine
Brown University Herbarium

Digitization and Databasing

The Brown Herbarium is a leading contributor to a large-scale effort to digitize botanical specimens from across the northeastern part of the US and eastern Canada.

Digitization is the process of making specimen images and associated collections data widely available online. This enables researchers from around the world to access our collections and contributes to global efforts to better understand biodiversity. We transcribe collecting information into a database and take high-quality digital images of every specimen. These data and images are freely available online, allowing broad access to our collections from anywhere in the world. Much of the work of making this information accessible has been carried out by a dedicated team of undergraduate herbarium assistants, who have digitized over 77,000 vascular plant specimens since 2012. 

Digitizing our collections has been an ongoing process. Our collections of fungi and algae have been entirely digitized, while our collections of vascular plants, bryophytes, and lichens are currently in the process of being digitized. Most of our sheets are digitized in the Herbarium by undergraduate students. Each sheet is photographed in a specially constructed light box, creating a high quality image of the specimen and label. Additionally, the specimen information on the label gets recorded, generally including what species is preserved on the sheet, who collected it, where, and when. Often, digitizers must carefully decipher handwriting that is hundreds of years old and notes scribbled in the margins of sheets. Many specimens were collected on expeditions by Western colonial powers or in regions where political borders have shifted. As such, digitizers must also take care to link the location as listed on labels to the contemporary name of those locations.

Many of our late 19th and early 20th century specimens, for example, have labels describing the collection locality as “Cat Swamp,” a swamp on the present-day East Side of Providence that no longer exists. Collections from the Brown Herbarium helped scholars understand the history of this lost location. 

Where are these data available? 

The Brown Herbarium is a part of the Consortium of Northeastern Herbaria (CNH), a large-scale effort to digitize all specimens from across the northeastern part of the US and eastern Canada. This project is made possible in part with funding from the National Science Foundation (Digitization TCN: Mobilizing New England Vascular Plant Specimen Data to Track Environmental Change). 

Through the CNH portal, data for around 1.8 million specimens are available online from herbaria across the region. Users can see collection information and view high resolution images of specimens.

Access the portal

Current Digitizers

Quinn Cowing, Mari Fajnzylber, Hannah Saiger, Ella Spungen, Sander Moffitt 

Past Digitizers

Jenna Andrews, Ada Bersoza Hernandez, Erin Carpa, Izzie Castner, Bowen Chen, Asante Crews, Daniel Davis, Jacob Douglas, Sophie Duncan, Hallie Fang-Horvath, Elodie Freymann, Nico Gascón, Lance Gloss, Jacob Goldberg, Camila Guillama Capella, Heather Huminski, Regan Lichtenberg, Carolyn Lober, Melissa Lopez, Jorge Martinez, Tom Merchant, Sedik Mohammad, Miranda Norlin, Ethan Paff, Ana S. Pereyra Caba, Andrew Pisaturo, Rhythm Rastogi, Anisha Rathod, Sofie Rudin, Anne Savaria-Watson, Annie Sholar, Dylan Spangle, Galen Tiong, Caroline Troy, Hayley Uno, Hannah Van, Sam Wickham