CEEB: Collections for Ethno- and Economic Botany
Plants for People - CEEB Project Overview

Collections for Ethno- and Economic Botany (CEEB) are comprised of useful plants and their wild relatives, as well as artifacts, derivatives, and information related to their use. These collections include a wide range of materials, from typical herbarium specimens to commercial food products, DNA samples, archaeological plant remains, and cultural artifacts derived from plants. CEEB serve a crucial function as sources of information about human use of plants throughout history. These collections ensure that knowledge of plant uses can be preserved and maintained, even as the cultures that produced it vanish or are assimilated; their historical and educational value and the preservation of local traditions and practices cannot be overestimated. People are captivated by and dependent upon useful plants around the world, and most major botanical collections contain CEEB. The collections are an important resource for an extensive community of users in taxonomic, morphological, molecular, population, ecological, and global change studies. They are used in fields as diverse as anthropology, archaeology, chemistry, history, and philosophy, and in applied research in agriculture, medicine, chemistry, nutrition, and horticulture.

Yet despite their scientific utility and inherent public appeal, these collections are often poorly organized, stored in inadequate conditions, and thus inaccessible to both scientists and the general public. A comprehensive effort to catalog these collections has never been completed and the scope of collections remains unknown. Because these collections vary widely in size and form, they present curatorial challenges beyond more standard natural history collections and are thus frequently neglected, deteriorating, and inaccessible, despite their enormous value as educational and research tools. Owing to their unique composition and the important ethnobotanical information associated with them, CEEB require their own curatorial standards and documentation methods. An urgent need exists to bring data and images of these collections online where the public, students, conservationists, and researchers can access them.

A Workshop on “Intellectual Imperatives in Ethnobiology," sponsored by the NSF and held at the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2002, identified critical community-wide needs and goals for collections; chief among them was to bring collections online and make them available to the public and scientists alike. These defined objectives have served as the basis for a proposed project uniting three institutions with significant CEEB in the US—The Missouri Botanical Garden (MO), The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), and The Field Museum of Chicago (F)—in a program to develop an online resource that will help all institutions with collections curate them to consistent standards and provide a venue for making information about and images of collections available via the internet. Development of the program is well underway, with a model website hosted by the Society for Economic Botany at www.ceeb.info; grant proposals have been submitted to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Goals of the project include:

1. CEEB Online: A Web site for CEEB will create online databases with information about and images of useful plants with the long-term goal of creating a simultaneously searchable system through a multi-database Application Programming Interface (API). On the website, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) infringement will be avoided by releasing use data only with the Prior Informed Consent of both governments and traditional groups. Other institutions will be able to use the databases to manage their collections and make information about them more readily available.

2. CEEB Curation: Institutions with collections of varying size and focus will be surveyed to develop and publish curatorial standards on the Web site. An important part of this effort will involve devising proper approaches to issues of IPR. Available curatorial standards will assist institutions in providing proper care for the collections and ensuring that information about them is in a standard format that can be easily shared.

3. Index to CEEB: An online index of curators and holdings of ethno- and economic botany collections from as many institutions as possible will be created and will be available on the Web site. An index will bring greater definition to a community of researchers with shared interests in useful plants and will provide a guide that will facilitate access to useful plant collections.

4. CEEB Dissemination: Results will be disseminated through the Web site, a stakeholder’s workshop to be held in Year 2, fellowships for students, teachers, and researchers, and public education and outreach at participating CEEB institutions focused on ethnic minorities and urban populations. Providing a Web resource for the curation and databasing of information about CEEB will increase interest in care of the collections, support their use for studies of useful plants, and will make information about useful plants accessible to both scientists and the interested public.