Friday, December 8, 2017

From Dayton to Cambridge and Back Again: the field notes of August F. Foerste

Field notes are well known to be essential, primary material that provide details about collections and expeditions that aren’t found in published material or specimen labels. Field notes can also contain diary entries, poems, and sketches which give insight into the lives of the researchers themselves. And now, we can add the candy preferences of August F. Foerste to those insights.

In his Specimen notebook, Ohio, 1887-1888, with no explanation, we find a list of several different candy recipes, including chocolate creams, lemon drops, and Neapolitan creams. Brings up quite a few questions. Who gave him the recipes? Was this the only paper he had available to write them down? Did he try to make them? Why is there a sugar syrup recipe at the end of the chocolate cream recipe with no explanation as to what to do with it? (This last one, admittedly, is more a personal inquiry of mine.)

Specimen notebook, Ohio, 1887-1888.

What we can determine is that they were written down in 1888 when Foerste was completing his master’s degree at Harvard University. In fact, on the facing page, pictured above, we see a note about Harvard’s collections, in particular “microscopic studies of bryozoan, sections of corals, dissected specimens of crinoids, [and] sections of brachiopoda shells.” So while he may have been briefly distracted by confection, he was still focused on his studies. In that same notebook, Foerste includes several illustrations of specimens.

Specimen notebook, Ohio, 1887-1888.

Foerste was a native of Dayton, Ohio. Like many naturalists, his early interests in science came about from wandering around town and taking note of the fossils, geological formations and stratigraphy of the local area. He completed his bachelor's degree at Denison University before continuing his studies in Cambridge, Mass. While at Harvard, Foesrte also served as part-time assistant with the United States Geological Survey. As part of the survey, he studied the stratigraphy and petrography of New England.
Illustration by Foerste while in Vermont for the U.S. Geological Survey. Foerste was also studying at Harvard at the time.
Field notes, New England, undated.

After graduating with his Ph.D, Foesrte would return to his hometown, spending most of his career as a teacher at Steele High School. During the summer breaks, he would go out into the field for the U.S. Geological Survey. As part of the BHL Field Notes Project, Smithsonian Institution Archives has digitized many of these notes. In 1932, he was appointed as Associate in Paleontology for the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History) until his death in 1936.

We are excited to share Foerste's field notes as part of the BHL Field Notes Project. You can view these and other notebooks by Foerste in BHL. And if anyone gives those confection recipes a try, be sure to share with us!

Written by 
Adriana Marroquin 
Project Manager, BHL Field Notes Project and Smithsonian Field Book Project 

The BHL Field Notes Project is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). 

Finding Aid for "Record Unit 7242, Foerste, Aug. F,(Aug. Frederic),1862-1936, Aug. F. (Aug. Frederic) Foerste Papers, 1887-1933 and undated

"August F. Foerste." Centreville-Washington History.  

For a transcribed copy of the recipes, check out the Smithsonian Field Book Project's 2012 Holiday Card, designed by Lesley Parilla.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Art of Herpetology: Schlegel's Reptiles and Amphibians

Schlegel, H. (Hermann). Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibien. 1837-1844. Atlas digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

German ornithologist and herpetologist Hermann Schlegel hoped that the publication of good illustrations would stimulate public interest in reptiles and amphibians. Thus, he produced Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibian (1837-44).

Schlegel, H. (Hermann). Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibien. 1837-1844. Atlas digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Schlegel, who eventually became director of the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden (Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie), is best-known for his research on birds, but his initial interest was in herpetology. Inspired by other beautifully-illustrated natural history books that had aroused public interest in their subjects, Schlegel compiled this work comprised of an atlas of 50 color plates and a short volume of text. Although the title mentions only amphibians, it describes and illustrates many reptile species as well.

It is unclear why the book's title does not also mention reptiles. It has been suggested that the work's original scope may have intended to cover only amphibians, and that the title was not adjusted after the scope broadened. This, however, is merely conjecture.

Schlegel, H. (Hermann). Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibien. 1837-1844. Atlas digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Unfortunately, the names of the artists who produced the drawings upon which these plates are based are unknown. Schlegel mentioned only that he received the illustrations from painters working in India.

Schlegel, H. (Hermann). Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibien. 1837-1844. Atlas digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

The text volume of this work was digitized by Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. The atlas was digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Schlegel, H. (Hermann). Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibien. 1837-1844. Atlas digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Schlegel, H. (Hermann). Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibien. 1837-1844. Atlas digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Stiassny, Melanie L.J. (2014). Schlegel's Guide to Amphibians. Natural Histories Opulent Oceans: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library. New York: Sterling Publishing. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Flore d'Amérique: Illustrating America’s Tropical Flora

Denisse, Etienne. Flore d'Amérique. 1843-46. Digitized by the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden.

In the 1840s, Europe was enraptured by the beauty of America’s tropical flora. With the production of the lavishly-illustrated Flore d'Amérique (1843-46), Etienne Denisse brought the exotic flowers, fruits, trees, vines, and nuts growing in the Caribbean Islands to captivated readers across the Atlantic.

As a lithographer for the French royal court, Etienne Denisse spent his early career at the botanical garden of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, but employment by the government took Denisse’s work to the New World. He spent many years in the French West Indies, illustrating and collecting plants from the region and sending specimens back to France [4] [2].

Denisse, Etienne. Denisse, Etienne. Flore d'Amérique. 1843-46. Digitized by the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden.

Denisse’s work in America culminated in the production of the magnificent Flore d'Amérique, comprised of a total of 201 plates. This title is very rare, and copies are often incomplete. However, thanks to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden, anyone in the world can freely access Denisse’s masterpiece through the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Flore d'Amérique’s stunning hand-colored lithographic plates were based on drawings “from nature” by Denisse. The work was issued in fascicles of six plates between 1843-1846 [2]. Imprints on the individual plates credit both the Parisian firm Gihaut Frères (plates 1-49,64-72) and Denisse (plates 50-63, 73-200) as publishers. 

Denisse, Etienne. Denisse, Etienne. Flore d'Amérique. 1843-46. Digitized by the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden.

Originally founded by Antoine François Gihaut as a firm of printsellers, Gihaut Frères expanded into publishing after Gihaut’s sons, Jean François and Michel Ange, took charge of the operation in 1822. In 1829, the firm received a brevet to serve as lithographic printers, but after 1839, this work was contracted out to other lithographic printing houses [1]. A variety of lithographic printers are credited via imprints throughout the plates within Flore d'Amérique, including d'Aubert &, Laujol, Kaeppelin &, Vayron, and Becquet. 

In 2007, The New York Botanical Garden, LuEsther T. Mertz Library opened an exhibition celebrating the Caribbean’s history, culture, and biodiversity. Entitled Paradise in Print, the exhibition showcased the rich flora of the region through the display of printed folio editions, rare books, and original watercolors from the Library’s collection [3]. 

Denisse, Etienne. Denisse, Etienne. Flore d'Amérique. 1843-46. Digitized by the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden.

Fittingly, Denisse’s Flore d'Amérique was among the treasures displayed as part of the exhibition. Through the printed page, Denisse and his fellow European explorers introduced the wonders of the New World to a broader audience across the Atlantic. Today, these illustrated publications are both works of art and valuable historical records that help provide insight into the ways in which European contact with America impacted the region’s biodiversity and culture. 

View all of the illustrations from Flore d'Amérique in the BHL Flickr

By Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager
Biodiversity Heritage Library


[1] British Museum. 2017. “Gihaut Frères (Biographical details).” Research. Accessed September 14, 2017.
[2] Christie’s Auction House. 2014. “Denisse, Etienne.” Sale 3400, December 4. Accessed September 14, 2017. 
[3] Dorfman, Jane, Marie Long and Stephen Sinon. 2007. Paradise in Print: Exhibition Catalog. Bronx: The New York Botanical Garden. 
[4] Mullarkey, Maureen. 2007. “Botanical Eden.” The New York Sun, August 2.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Series Two: BHL NDSR Webinars

In November, four of our BHL NDSR residents delivered webinars reporting on the results of their research and recommendations on how we might best improve the features and functionality of BHL to incorporate new technologies and evolving best practices for digital libraries and the larger biodiversity community.

You can view recordings of these past webinars:

BHL NDSR Webinar Schedule: Series Two
Please mark your calendars and join us for the final two webinars in our BHL NDSR series:

November 27, 2017 at 2:00pm ET
Marissa Kings, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Biodiversity Heritage Library: Best Practices for Digital Libraries
Seminar Room: iDigBio Conference Room ( 500 )

December 5, 2017 at 2:00pm ET
Ariadne Rehbein, Missouri Botanical Garden
Biodiversity Heritage Library: Enabling Image Discovery
Seminar Room: iDigBio Conference Room ( 500 )

New to Adobe Connect? We recommend following the link to the webinar about 15-20 minutes before the start time to install any add-ins as needed and to run the Audio Wizard. Please note that sometimes after running the Audio Wizard, you may still need to click on the picture of the microphone to connect the microphone. Should you have any questions, we’ll also be monitoring the chat throughout. Hope you can join us!

Friday, November 17, 2017

TDWG 2017 Annual Conference: Data Integration in a Big Data Universe: Associating Occurrences with Genes, Phenotypes, and Environments

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is an institutional member of TDWG. TDWG was formed to:
establish international collaboration among biological database projects. TDWG promoted the wider and more effective dissemination of information about the World's heritage of biological organisms for the benefit of the world at large. Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) now focuses on the development of standards for the exchange of biological/biodiversity data.

The TDWG 2017 Annual Conference, the theme of which was "Data Integration in a Big Data Universe: Associating Occurrences with Genes, Phenotypes, and Environments" (see the full program here),  provides the opportunity for bioinformatics professionals to meet and exchange a wide variety of ideas. Held in Ottawa, Ontario, the conference was hosted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Museum of Nature (a BHL Affiliate).

This year, The Biodiversity Heritage Library organized a symposium, "500 Years of Big Data from the Biodiversity Heritage Library", organized by BHL Program Director Martin R. Kalfatovic and BHL Program Manager Carolyn A. Sheffield. In addition to the BHL symposium, BHL web developer Mike Lichtenberg participated in the symposium "Using Big Data Techniques to Cross Dataset Boundaries - Integration and Analysis of Multiple Datasets", organized by Kalfatovic, Matthew Collins, and Robert Guralnick.

See details about the symposiums below:

BHL Symposium (abstracts found in the links below)

From left: Lewis, Orrell, Mozzherin, Mika, Sheffield

Symposium: Using Big Data Techniques to Cross Dataset Boundaries - Integration and Analysis of Multiple Datasets


TDWG also offered the opportunity for excursions. The Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) provided an amazing tour of their collections facilities located just outside the city. The CMN library is also located at this facility and it was great to meet with the library staff and see their collections.

By Martin R. Kalfatovic
Program Director
Biodiversity Heritage Library

Thursday, November 16, 2017

John Forbes Royle: Materia Medica and Economic Botany

As part of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project, an interesting title was added to BHL from Yale University’s Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library and the online Medical Heritage Library: An essay on the antiquity of Hindoo medicine, including an introductory lecture to the course of materia medica and therapeutics, delivered at King's College, by physician-botanist John Forbes Royle.

Title page of An essay on the antiquity of Hindoo medicine, including an introductory lecture to the course of materia medica and therapeutics, delivered at King's College, by Royle, J. Forbes (John Forbes), 1799-1858. London, Allen, 1837. Digitized by Yale University via the Medical Heritage Library.

This work from 1837 documents the materia medica (pharmacology) of India, and explores the historical exchange of medicinal knowledge between cultural groups of India, Arabia, Persia, Greece and China. Including details in botany, ecology, minerology and astronomy, it’s an intriguing interdisciplinary resource that can also be read for insights on its Western author and this period in time.

John Forbes Royle (1798-1858) traded his plan to join the British army for an unexpected interest in natural history. He was born at Kanpur, India, and would return to India after attending Edinburgh High School and the East India Company's military academy at Addiscombe. Inspired by the mentorship of physician Anthony Todd Thomson, Royle chose to pursue medicine as a means to further his study of botany. He became an assistant surgeon with the East India Company, and in the following years worked at several locations across northern India, where he studied medicines from bazaars, employed collectors to amass a collection of economic plants, and became superintendent of the garden at Saharanpur. He earned the titles of MD in 1833 and Professor of Materia Medica at King's College, London, in 1836.

An excerpt from Essay on the antiquity of Hindoo medicine demonstrates Royle’s interconnected thinking on medicine:

"There are, however, two branches of this extensive science [botany], respecting which I am desirous of making a few observations; one is the connexion between the Structure and Natural affinities of plants, and their Physical and Medical properties; and the other is the Geographical distribution, especially as connected with Climate. Both are important subjects, whether we consider them in a scientific or a practical point of view. The one teaches us the laws which influence the distribution of plants; points out the countries and climates which different families affect; and gives us principles for their cultivation, either as medicines, or as objects of agriculture: the other is no less valuable in affording us innumerable indications in every part of the world, for discovering the properties of new and unknown plants, whether as fitting them for food, for medicine, or for any of the arts of life[.]" [Royle, p. 3]
Cinchona, a South American genus. Its bark contains medicinal compounds including quinine, used to treat malaria. Royle recommended that Cinchona be grown in India. Image from BHL book: Icones plantarum medico-oeconomico-technologicarum cum earum fructus ususque descriptione. Wien:herausgegeben von Ignatz Albrecht und verlegt bey Phil. Jos. Schalbaecher, [1800]-1822. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

Cushing/Whitney Medical Library of Yale University 

The copy of Royle’s text in BHL belonged to Edward Salisbury, a Yale graduate and professor who encouraged scholarship on West and South Asia. Salisbury donated his “Oriental Library,” a collection of hundreds of rare and early printed books and manuscripts, to the college in 1870. Salisbury’s Oriental Library is foundational to what is now the third-largest collection of Islamic manuscripts in the United States. Last year, Yale celebrated Salisbury’s 175th anniversary as the first professor of Arabic and Sanskrit languages and literature in the Americas.

Essay on the antiquity of Hindoo medicine is now held at the Medical Historical Library of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library. The library was named for Yale graduates Harvey Cushing, known as the father of neurosurgery, and John Hay Whitney, Herald Tribune editor and patron of the arts. In 1935, Cushing and two other physicians, John F. Fulton and Arnold C. Klebs, donated their personal collections of medical texts to the medical library, beginning its Medical Historical Library. Its collections include materials ranging from the 16th to 20th century, with works from Robert Boyle, Galen, William Harvey, Hippocrates, and Andreas Vesalius. Additionally, the Historical Library also holds prints, a collection of weights and measures, and presents rotating exhibits.

The Cushing/Whitney Library is also home to the Cushing Center, a room in the stacks transformed to display the medical specimens of Cushing’s Brain Tumor Registry. Cushing meticulously documented over 2,200 case studies as he pioneered the field of neurosurgery, and his registry includes specimens preserved from human surgeries and autopsies as well as notes, journal excerpts, photos and negatives.

Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library Historical Library. Frank Poole, 2004.

Medical Heritage Library 

The Medical Heritage Library (MHL) is an online collection of materials that are free and openly accessible through the Internet Archive. Royle’s Essay on antiquity of Hindoo medicine came to BHL via the MHL.

Much like BHL, the MHL is a collaborative effort by medical libraries to promote access to resources (such as rare books, pamphlets, journals and films) that are useful across a spectrum of disciplines. The collection includes over 200,000 titles with fascinating variety - skimming the landing page, one can find herbals, medical dictionaries and papers, as well as video clips of 1960s tobacco commercials and Helen Keller’s autobiography.

The Medical Heritage Library was launched in 2010 by founders The Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University and Columbia University Libraries/Information Services; The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; The Cushing/Whitney Medical Library at Yale University; The Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University; U.S. National Library of Medicine; and Wellcome Library in London, UK. (For more information about its content contributors, funding and support, please see MHL’s ‘About’ page.)

An essay on the antiquity of Hindoo Medicine is a welcome addition to BHL’s collection of works by John Forbes Royle, which include:

Thanks to Melissa Grafe, Ph.D, Head of the Medical Historical Library and John R. Bumstead Librarian for Medical History, who shared how this volume came to the Medical Historical Library.

By Elizabeth Meyer Library 
Project Assistant 
Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University


Thursday, November 9, 2017

BHL Facilitates Research on Alfred Russel Wallace's Legacy

Alfred Russel Wallace in 1869. Copyright George Beccaloni.

In 1854, Alfred Russel Wallace began an eight year collecting trip to Southeast Asia, through the region he called the Malay Archipelago (now Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and East Timor). It was during this expedition, in the midst of a fever in 1858, that Wallace conceived (independently of Darwin) of the theory of natural selection. Wallace expanded his idea into a detailed article which he sent to Charles Darwin for comment, unaware that Darwin himself had come to the same conclusion, though he had yet to publish the theory.

At the suggestion of Darwin's friends Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, Wallace's article, together with unpublished writings by Darwin on the subject of natural selection and evolution, were presented to the Linnean Society in 1858 and subsequently published in the Society's journal as "On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; and On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection," with Darwin and Wallace as co-authors.

While important for its link to the theory of evolution by means of natural selection, Wallace's Malay Archipelago expedition was also scientifically significant from a collecting standpoint.

Beccaloni (center) with the Patrons of his Wallace projects. Sir David Attenborough (left), Patron of the Wallace Correspondence Project, and Bill Bailey (right), Patron of the Wallace Memorial Fund. Photographed at London's Natural History Museum in 2012. Copyright Jan Beccaloni.

Dr. George Beccaloni, Director of the Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project (an open access archive of Wallace's manuscripts), is working to catalog the animal species collected by him during his expedition. Not surprisingly, given the sheer number of specimens and the passage of time, this is a challenging endeavor.

"We know Wallace collected nearly 126,000 specimens: about 110,000 insects, 7,500 shells, 8,050 bird skins, and 410 mammals and reptiles, which ranged from Orangutans to Birds of Paradise, from land snails to cockroaches, from Birdwing butterflies to tiny parasitic wasps," shares Beccaloni. "I have estimated that about 5,000 of them were new to science, but apart from the 295 species he described himself, there is no list of all the others - or the many species he collected which already had scientific names."

Scientific literature is a valuable source of information on Wallace's specimens, but locating the relevant publications is itself a challenge.

"I am collaborating with colleagues in Southeast Asia and at London's Natural History Museum to produce a detailed list of the species Wallace collected," explains Beccaloni. "It is a difficult task because the information about them is scattered through the scientific literature of the last 163 years, in an estimated 400 or more publications. To find these requires considerable detective work."

Fortunately, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is making it considerably easier for Beccaloni to access the publications he needs for this research.

"BHL is an absolutely fantastic resource which is very important to my work," affirms Beccaloni. "Locating mentions of Wallace specimens is tricky, but at least most of the articles are now available in the BHL. If they weren't, it would mean going to a specialist library and searching through the physical publications, which would take a lot more effort and be logistically difficult."

Once a catalog of Wallace's specimens is completed, it can be used to help track down the physical specimens in London's Natural History Museum and other museum collections, leading to increased global access to Wallace's specimens through digitization.

"The specimens can be digitized and the images and data made freely available on the Internet," says Beccaloni. "Colleagues in Southeast Asia view this as 'digital repatriation' of the material Wallace collected in their countries."

In addition to his work related to Alfred Russel Wallace (including the Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project, Wallace Letters Online and The Wallace Website), Beccaloni is also a specialist in the taxonomy and ecology of butterflies and orthopteroid insects (especially cockroaches). He is the founder and author of the Cockroach Species File, a world catalog of cockroaches. Again, BHL provides access to key resources.

"For my work on the Cockroach Species File, I often need copies of old and often obscure taxonomic papers, which fortunately I am usually able to find in the BHL," says Beccaloni.

Homepage of the Cockroach Species File.

Beccaloni's favorite BHL feature is the ability to generate custom PDFs of relevant pages, eliminating the need to download an entire journal volume. To further improve the efficiency of his research, Beccaloni notes that the ability to search the full text of BHL's collections for specific search terms (e.g. "Wallace") would be of considerable value.

Full text search is a feature that BHL's users have long-requested, and we are happy to confirm that its development is currently underway! Through increased research efficiency, full text search will enhance BHL's ability to inspire discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge. Stay tuned for more information on this new service.

Alfred Russel Wallace was truly a pioneer who left behind a considerable scientific legacy. Thanks to the work of Dr. Beccaloni and others on the Wallace projects, this legacy is being documented and made more accessible to a worldwide audience. We are proud to know that BHL's collections are playing an important part in this valuable work.

Explore the Alfred Russel Wallace projects below:

By Grace Costantino 
Outreach and Communication Manager  
Biodiversity Heritage Library 


This post may contain the personal opinions of BHL users or affiliated staff and does not necessarily represent the official Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) position on these matters.