Monday, October 26, 2009

BHL Book of the Week

Today's book of the week comes to us from an entomologist who also enjoyed a brief stint as a librarian. British beetles transferred from Curtis's British entomology by Edward Wesley Janson exemplifies intellectual collaboration within the entomological community during the 19th century, when bug-collecting enjoyed heightened popularity among the general public.

While serving as Curator of the Collections for the Entomological Society of London, Janson published
British Beetles (not to be confused with these guys!) with the help of his elder colleague's intriguing illustrations. John Curtis was an English entomologist and illustrator who grew up drawing insects and pursuing entomological craft while apprenticing at a law office. His A guide to the arrangement of British insects, was an influential work with over 10,000 insect names. Click the image or the link below to view more about the book. Enjoy!

British beetles. Transferred from Curtis's British entomology. With descriptions by E.W. Janson. (1863) Contributed by the Smithsonian Institution.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book of the Week: The Oldest Book in BHL

Question: What's the oldest book in BHL?

Answer: [R]ogatu plurimo[rum] inopu[m] num[m]o[rum] egentiu[m] appotecas refuta[n]tiu[m] occasione illa, q[uia] necessaria ibide[m] ad corp[us] egru[m] specta[n]tia su[n]t cara simplicia et composita... also known as "Herbarius latinus"

Published in 1484, this Pre-Linnean text describes 150 plants and 96 medicines commonly found in apothecaries, and each plant description is accompanied by a detailed woodcut. The work is compiled from older sources, including classical, Arabic, and Medieval works, and contains Latin text, with the names of the herbs in both Latin and German. The popularity of the text resulted in the publication of ten reprints before 1499.

This important work was compiled by Peter Schöffer, an early German printer born in 1425 in Gernsheim, Germany. Studying in Paris, Schöffer spent his early career as a manuscript copyist, but he eventually became an apprentice to Johannes Gutenberg. In 1457, Schöffer went into business with Guternberg's moneylender, Johann Furst, establishing the printing firm Furst and Schöffer, after the foreclosure of the mortgage on Gutenberg's printing shop.

Peter Schöffer's famous works include the Latin Psalter (1457), Cicero's De officiis (1465), and our very own book of the week, "Herbarius latinus". Schöffer is attributed with such innovations as dating books, introducing the printer's device and Greek characters in print, and using colored inks in print. Eventually, after going in to business on his own, Schöffer restricted his publications to works involving theology, and civil and ecclesiastic law.

Schöffer's legacy still lives on today, beyond the bounds of the published arena. Schöffer's house was eventually turned into a brewery, from which the Schöfferhofer brand of German wheat beer originated. (Schöffer's portrait is used as a trademark for this beer). With such accomplishments as "Herbarius latinus" and his own German beer, what more could Schöffer have hoped to leave behind him for remembrance in the new millenium?

To view this week's book of the week, [R]ogatu plurimo[rum] inopu[m] num[m]o[rum] egentiu[m] appotecas refuta[n]tiu[m] occasione illa, q[uia] necessaria ibide[m] ad corp[us] egru[m] specta[n]tia su[n]t cara simplicia et composita (1484), contributed by the Missouri Botanical Garden, click here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Disappearing Frenchman and the State Bird of California

With the month of September having drawn to a close, and the cooler weather descending upon us (yes, even here in San Francisco), it seems a fitting time to draw attention to the contributions of Jean-François Galaup, Comte de La Pérouse and his remarkable (and ill-fated) Pacific voyage. Because it was 223 years ago last month that La Pérouse landed his first French expedition to California, a trip that led to the first published account and image of the California Quail, our state bird since 1931.

Although the report of La Pérouse's voyage is title Voyage de La Pérouse autour du Monde, he did not circumvent the globe, but rather thoroughly explored the Pacific Ocean, landing in such places as Chile, Alaska, California, Macao, the Philippines, Siberia, the Russian possessions of Sakhalin and Kamchatka, Hawaii, Easter Island, and Australia. His expedition was sponsored by Louis XVI; the French were late to the game of Pacific exploration, following in the wake of voyages launched by Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Portuguese.

La Pérouse commanded two frigates, L'Astrolabe and La Boussole, and travelled with a group of seventeen respected scientists, engineers, and naturalists, as well as top-of-the-line scientific instruments, and an impressive natural history library. He had an incredible amount of resources and support, yet he launched from Brest in northwestern France on August 1, 1785 and never saw France again.

In California, La Pérouse said of our little birds that he saw them in coveys of 300-400, and that they were fat and delicious. Here in San Francisco, many of us have grown quite protective of Callipepla californica. A bird once seen in great numbers in Golden Gate Park, it is estimated that the California Quail population in the Park had plummeted from over 1,200 birds at the turn of the century to fewer than 15 individuals in 1999. For most of the last decade, there have been focused efforts to bring the quail back to Golden Gate Park, by restoring habitat and building an understanding of the plight of our little bird. If you're lucky, you might see or hear California Quail here in the Park again; they are definitely making a comeback.

La Pérouse was not so fortunate, as he, his ships, and his crew were lost after leaving Botany Bay in Australia in March 1788. Miraculously, La Pérouse gave his journal of the voyage to date, as well as some scientific research to the crew member who had served as a Russian translator, Baron Jean Baptiste Barthelmy de Lesseps, who disembarked in Kamchatka. He travelled over land back to Paris, and the material be brought back was published at the expense of the French Republic, with the first volume appearing in 1797.

-Rebecca Morin, California Academy of Sciences

To view this week's Book of the Week, Voyage de La Pérouse autour du Monde (1797), contributed by the Missouri Botanical Garden, click here.