With about 200,000 specimens, the Ornithological Collection is the largest of its kind in Germany and one of the most important bird collections in the world. Its historical specimens are particularly significant because many of them can be traced back to famous collectors such as Peter Simon Pallas, Adalbert von Chamisso, Alexander von Humboldt or Ernst Mayr. Many publications and species descriptions were based on these specimens. However, documentation, in particular on the earliest specimens up to the mid-19th century, is somewhat patchy, as documentation standards only developed over time. This poses a major problem for the scientific exploitation of these unique samples of historical biodiversity and taxonomic voucher species.
Several projects brought together disparate information found in various places (e.g. catalogues, publications, letters and journal entries) and made it available to enable research on taxonomical, ecological and cultural heritage issues. The work has been focussing on compiling catalogues for important collections and type lists and retracing travel routes. In recent years, publications on historical collections and their type lists were published, for instance on the collections by William John Ansorge, Benedykt Dybowski, Eduard Eversmann, Konstanty Jelski, Wilhelm Friedrich Hemprich/Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg and Friedrich Sellow. We are currently working on the types of Gustav Adolf Fischer‘s collection in collaboration with the Zoologisches Museum Hamburg and the Bernhard Eunom Philippi collection in collaboration with Jiří Mlíkovský. The main objective of these studies is to enhance the information gained from historical specimens for current research.