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Monday, November 23, 2009

Book of the Week: Thanksgiving Special!


With the Thanksgiving Day holiday approaching this week, it seemed appropriate to dedicate this week's book of the week to the Thanksgiving holiday staple - the turkey. Thus, this week's book of the week, Turkey Raising by Harry Miles Lamon (1922), served as a practical guide for turkey farmers during the first quarter of the twentieth century.

The turkey's origin is thought to come from the pheasant, as turkeys are thought to have diverged from this line around eleven million years ago. One of the first animals domesticated in America, the bird has had an interesting history in this continent, which included the dedication of two religious festivals held each year by the Aztec people in Mexico to the species, use of the bird in sacred Mayan ceremonies, as well as a long history as a hunted bird of prey among the native peoples in this land.

The name "turkey" has several proposed origins. For instance, some insist that Christopher Columbus called the birds "tuka," which is the Tamil word for peacock, and that turkey is a derivative of this word. Others postulate that Luis de Torres, a physician sailing with Columbus, called the animal "tukki," which means "big bird" in Hebrew. Still others say that the North American Indian name for the birds was "firkee," and turkey is simply a long-standing mis-pronunciation of the name.

There is also some disagreement over where the tradition of eating a turkey at Thanksgiving emerged from. For instance, it is possible that the early settlers of the Mayflower, being influenced by the Northeastern American Indians in their search for food, began hunting this abundant fowl at the instruction of their Native American friends, and that a turkey was actually present at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Other experts believe that the first use of the turkey in a Thanksgiving meal was actually at the celebration of the English Harvest Home Festival observed by the early colonists at Jamestown.

Regardless of the origin of the use of the turkey at Thanksgiving feasts, guides such as Lamon's Turkey Raising strived to serve as an uncomplicated, concise yet inclusive discussion of the art of turkey raising, and this example includes such information as the history and extent of the industry, guidelines for mating and showing turkeys, tips of egg incubation, marketing, and insect, disease and predatory animal control. One interesting source of information within the book is a breakdown of the prices paid to producers of turkeys from the years 1915-1920 in various areas of the country. For example, on Nov. 15, 1915 in Texas, turkey meat fetched 11.3 cents per pound, while the same date and year in Washington, D.C. demanded an 18 cents per pound price. Constrastingly, on November 15, 1920 in Texas, a pound of turkey meat was worth 25 cents, and in Washington it earned 38 cents per pound. The national average for a pound of turkey meat in 1915 was 14.8 cents, while it raised to 31.8 cents per pound by 1920.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, whether you do so with turkey, tofurkey, or some other food completely, consider taking a look at this interesting delve into the early history of turkey raising in the United States. Happy Thanksgiving!

This week's book of the week, Turkey Raising by Harry Miles Lamon (1922), was contributed by The University of California Digital Library.

Monday, November 16, 2009

BHL Evolution: New Look, More Content

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is coming into a new era complete with a new look, new content, and new features. The first, most obvious, change will be the adoption of a new BLUE color scheme. Users will not be faced with the need to adapt to a new UI environment; we’re simply changing color as a way of marking BHL’s evolution. BHL is evolving in three distinct ways with regard to its content and features:
  • The BHL collection has added over 21,000 new titles (that’s over 28,000 new volumes) as a result of ingesting open access texts scanned by Internet Archive, bringing the total collection (to date - 17 Nov 2009) to 69,000 volumes! Users will now have access to biodiversity related content from the major university and research institutions that have partnered with the Internet Archive such as the California Digital Library. By aggregating biodiversity literature into its collection from other sources, BHL is increasing its ability to serve as a definitive resource for access to the world’s biodiversity literature.

  • New links to documentation and user tutorials are being added. These links are part of a new website (actually a wiki) dedicated to providing users with more information about the BHL project overall, its history, member institutions, and developments for the future. Still in its early stages of development, the new wiki will serve as a one-stop-shop for communication about the BHL collection, as well as its tools and services.

  • BHL taxonomic name data now have direct links to Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) pages via a new EOL icon, such as this page on the Orca, Orcinus orca, online at http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/7869924. When viewing the “Names on this page” panel in the BHL Portal, an EOL icon will appear next to the taxon or binomial linking to the corresponding page on the EOL website. Users will be merely a click away to EOL content!

The new content and features are just the beginning of BHL evolutionary adaptations to come. As a digital library organism within its WWW environment, it is sensitive to the changing needs of its users. Whether mutating from brown to blue or doubling its collection, or undergoing small incremental changes with the development of its new wiki for documentation and user tutorials, the BHL will work to serve its users through the exciting new eras to come. Let us know what you think.

--Bianca Lipscomb
Collections Coordinator

Book of the Week: Brooklyn Conchological Club One Hit Wonder


In the history of scientific serials, every now and then out of the great list of titles emerges a singular work from an organization of scientists or a society. Records show that the Brooklyn Conchological Club published only a single volume - Volume 1, Number 1 (1907) - of the Bulletin of the Brooklyn Conchological Club.

The volume is 14 pages in length, has seven pen and ink figures and seven short articles, which are: "Abnormal Shells," by S.C. Wheat; "A New Varietal Form of Turbo Petholatus," by Maxwell Smith; "Shells in City Gardens and Ponds," by S.C. Wheat; "Phorus Conchyliophora," by F.W. Weaver; "List of Long Island Shell," by S.C. Wheat; "Shall we have an American Conchological Society" and "Memorandum of Suggestions for the Organization of a National Conchological Society," by Wm. H. Dall.

One order of business which was presented on page seven of this issue was reporting on the decision to change from the Brooklyn Conchological Club to the American Conchological Society, thereby taking a one time "section" of the Department of Natural History of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and looking towards creating a national society.

In the article entitled "Shells in the City Gardens and Ponds," Silas C. Wheat writes, "In my garden in the heart of Brooklyn are innumerable Vallonia pulchella MΓΌller. I have taken 50 good specimens from a space four inches square. In midwinter 16 were found packed in a bit of hollow stem of a plant, the shells fitting snugly in the orifice, and all occupying a little more than an inch in length. In November I have found them active under a half inch of earth and snow. One of these beautiful creatures took its winter nap on the stem of a tropical tree in my window, where the sun blazed upon it for three hours every bright morning without once moving."

Records show that after this volume nothing else was published by the Club. As we study the history of scientific literature, we might remark that the above observational description would today sit very comfortably as a blog post, yet early scientific literature is often defined by simple, careful, and studious observations of organisms.

-Matt Person, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

This Week's Book of the Week, Bulletin of the Brooklyn Conchological Club, Volume 1, Number 1 (1907), was contributed by the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book of the Week: Extinction in BHL

Living biodiversity may be the most common topic of discussion in most books found within BHL, but BHL also contains some gems discussing extinct animals as well. One such books is Palaeontology, or, A systematic summary of extinct animals and their geological relations (1860). This important work was written by Sir Richard Owen, an English botanist, comparative anatomist and paleontologist.

Owen is credited with coining the phrase 'Dinosauria,' meaning 'Terrible Reptile' or 'Fearfully Great Reptile.' Furthermore, he is well remembered for his opposition to Charles Darwin's evolution by natural selection. While agreeing that evolution did, in fact, occur, Owen purported that it was much more complex than the discussion of natural selection presented by Darwin in Origin of Species. Furthermore, he is well remembered for his distinctive contribution to the establishment of the British Museum of Natural History in London in 1881.

Among the thorough discussion of extinct animals from various kingdoms, Owen's
Palaeontology, or, A systematic summary of extinct animals and their geological relations contains geological studies of these various extinct animals, with an estimation of their appearance on earth based on their fossil occurrences in the strata of the earth. Drawing on his work in comparative anatomy, Owen explains that it is by comparing the forms and structures of existing plants and animals, and how these relate to function, to those discovered in fossil remains that an "idea of the food and habits of such species" can be obtained.

Take a look at this fascinating work on extinct creatures, ranging from Protozoa to Animalia and everything in between! The text is rich with highly detailed illustrations complementing the research presented by the author. Through detailed descriptions of the forms, structure, and proposed habits of such creatures, this work transports the reader back to a time when the Terrestrial Sloth, Mastodon, or even the famous Ichthyosaurus, among others, might well have walked (or swam, as the case may be) the earth.

Palaeontology, or, A Systematic Summary of Extinct Animals and their Geological Relations (1860), by Sir Richard Owen, was contributed by the Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology.