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Digitising the specimens and archive of A.F.G. Kerr, pioneering botanist in Thailand

A.F.G. Kerr in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand

Thailand is endowed with a rich diversity of flowering plants, amounting to over 10,000 species. Thailand and the surrounding countries form part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot. Our current knowledge of the Thai flora owes much to the pioneering work of an early 20th century doctor turned botanist who is recognised as the ‘founding father' of Thai botany: Arthur Francis George Kerr (1877-1942). Kerr's major legacy to botany is a collection of high quality dried plant specimens, linked to an archive of notes, itineraries, diaries, photographs and artefacts made during a series of tours throughout Thailand and into surrounding countries.

The Flora of Thailand project is the main vehicle for this work, a collaborative venture between botanical institutes in Thailand and several overseas institutes including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Kerr's specimens are vital to this because he kept meticulous notes and his specimens can be pinpointed accurately to the places where they were collected. A century later they are still among the best materials available to describe the plants and map their distributions. The richness of these specimens, their history and the fact that they are an important tool for botanical research in Thailand makes them an extremely valuable resource. Secondly, Kerr's photographs provide a vivid portrait of early 20th century Thailand and surrounding countries. By linking this material to his itineraries, we can bring to life a comprehensive account of the specimens he collected, the people he met and the places he visited.

At present the specimens and archive are accessible only by visiting the botanical institutes where they are held. This proposal, aims to make the specimens, photos and itineraries available online. The initiative will also bring Kerr to a wider audience, with information about of his life and of plant collecting and conservation in Thailand.