An AHRC-funded project is looking for members of the public to contribute to efforts to gather detailed information on the rich treasure trove of illustrated material, illustrators and authors, currently locked away in Victorian Natural History publications.

Zooniverse, the premier citizen science platform, has today launched Science Gossip– a new crowd sourcing platform to investigate the use of illustrations in scientific publications. This is based on a unique collaboration between Zooniverse, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the AHRC’s Science in Culture theme large grant project Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries.

It is hoped that members of the public will be able to help identify and tag illustrations currently in the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s online database. Once a page has been identified as containing an illustration, citizen scientists will then be asked to add relevant information from the image itself. This information will create essential data for historians to understand Victorian illustrating practices at a crucial moment in scientific history when Darwin was developing his theories of evolution.

In participating in this digital project, the ‘citizen scientists’ will also be helping academics to better understand the 19th century origins of the citizen science movement itself. Visitors to Science Gossip will be uncovering the names and characters of people who contributed to the growing visual culture of science publications.

Professor Sally Shuttleworth, Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and the Principal Investigator for the Constructing Scientific Communities project, said:

“This is the first time Zooniverse, or any of the project partners, have tried to use today’s citizen scientists to help map the contributions to science made by ‘citizens’ in the past. The public really can help to make a difference to our understanding of the culture of these nineteenth-century publications. I would very much like to harness the huge popular interest in natural history to further our research into this crucial area of modern scientific advancement.”