Tuesday, April 25, 2017

BHL Booth at the Earth Optimism Summit

​This Earth Day weekend, the Earth Optimism Summit in Washington, D.C. celebrated conservation successes and fueled discussions about how to expand conservation impact. Organized by the Smithsonian, the three-day event (21-23 April) brought together representatives from a wide array of fields for a series of presentations relaying over 100 conservation success stories. The Summit also included a public Innovation Commons event featuring exhibits showcasing the ways that a variety of organizations and projects support conservation and help protect biodiversity.

BHL booth at the Earth Optimism Summit in Washington, DC, 21-23 April 2017. Image credit: Grace Costantino.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library participated in the Innovation Commons with a booth highlighting the many ways that BHL helps save biodiversity by supporting research around the world. Over the three days of the Summit, staff from BHL, Smithsonian Libraries, and the Library of Congress (both BHL Member libraries) shared BHL resources and impact stories with over 250 visitors. As the Innovation Commons event was open to the public, booth staff interacted not only with Summit attendees, but also members of the public, including participants of the March for Science on 22 April.

Amy Zhang (left; BHL intern at Library of Congress) and Carolyn Sheffield (right; BHL Program Manager) at the BHL booth on 22 April 2017. Image Credit: Martin Kalfatovic.

Using posters showcasing BHL's impact on conservation and user stories from around the world, as well as through hands-on demos using the laptop and ipads at the booth, staff introduced many new people to BHL's collections, tools and services. Many visitors expressed awe and appreciation for the wealth of biodiversity resources available to them through BHL, with more than one person expressing disbelief that they had previously been unaware of BHL's existence.

Tomoko Steen (left; Senior Research Specialist, Science, Technology, and Business Division, Library of Congress) and Martin Kalfatovic (right; BHL Program Director) at the BHL booth on 22 April. Image credit: Martin Kalfatovic.

BHL also partnered with Scientific Collections International for booth content. SciColl is a global consortium devoted to promoting the use and impact of object-based scientific collections across disciplines. Last September, BHL participated in SciColl's Food Security Workshop at the National Agricultural Library, which brought together stakeholders to talk about the ways that scientific collections (including literature) can support food security. Booth staff distributed brochures summarizing the results of this workshop.

Bonnie White (left; Library Technician, Smithsonian Libraries), Carolyn Sheffield (center; BHL Program Manager) and Grace Costantino (right; BHL Outreach and Communication Manager) at the BHL booth on 21 April. Image credit: Barbara Ferry.

We would like to extend a special thanks to each volunteer who helped share BHL's free and open collections with Earth Optimism visitors. Smithsonian Libraries staff at the booth included Kristen Bullard (Librarian), Barbara Ferry (Head, Natural and Physical Sciences Department, SIL), Gil Taylor (Supervisory Librarian), Bonnie White (Library Technician), and Sue Zwicker (Librarian). Library of Congress staff at the booth included Tomoko Steen (Senior Research Specialist, Science, Technology and Business Division) and Amy Zhang (BHL intern at LoC). BHL staff at the booth included Grace Costantino (BHL Outreach and Communication Manager), Martin Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director and Associate Director, Digital Programs and Initiatives, SIL), and Carolyn Sheffield (BHL Program Manager).

Grace Costantino at the BHL booth on 23 April. Image credit: Sue Zwicker.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the Earth Optimism Summit and demonstrate the ways that BHL's free resources can help support conservation efforts around the world!

Martin Kalfatovic (left) and Carolyn Sheffield (right) at the BHL booth on 22 April. Photo credit: Martin Kalfatovic.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Worcester Country Horticultural Society

In the fall of 1840, in Worcester, Massachusetts, two dozen attendees of the Worcester Agricultural Society's Annual Cattle Show put on a display of local fruits and flowers. The attention it received led to the creation, in 1842, of the Worcester County Horticultural Society (WCHS), the third oldest active society of its kind in the United States.

The logo of the WCHS, from Transactions, 1912
(image in the public domain,
from Wikipedia)

Today, the WCHS is based at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which it established in 1986. While many things have changed since the era of its founding 175 years ago, the WCHS continues to "inspire the use and creation of horticulture to improve lives, enrich communities and strengthen commitment to the natural world." The history of this effort is documented in the Transactions of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, which is available in BHL's collection through the work of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project. Thank you to the WCHS for sharing this valuable publication with BHL and its users.

History of the WCHS

"It is truth, TRUTH—and the Universe was framed to corroborate it—that of all employments, none is better than the Culture of the Earth, none more independent, none more pleasant, none more worthy the dignity of Man!"

On September 19, 1840, several men gathered for the purpose of establishing a society that would do for horticulture what the Worcester Agricultural Society had done for agriculture: the "mutual improvement in [its] theoretical and practical branches." The Agricultural Society's Annual Cattle Show was chosen as the venue for an initial exhibition. Prior to the show itself, ads were placed in area newspapers soliciting contributions from the gardens and orchards of the public. The exhibit opened the day before the Cattle Show, to popular acclaim and the chagrin of the elder society, which was in danger of being upstaged. A host of new members was admitted (membership was $1), and the nascent horticultural society entered a period of steady growth. 

The "Surpasse," one of the peaches on display at
the Exhibition of 1846, from
The Peaches of New York (1917)
From the beginning, regular exhibitions were the main occupation of the WCHS. Strict rules governed the creation of these exhibits and the conduct of the committees appointed to organize them. Nevertheless, George Jaques lamented in the Transactions (1847):

It may pour balm into some wounds, in certain quarters—wounds which Time—that physician, so eminent for the thorough course that he pursues with his patients—may have failed of healing, to acknowledge the sinfulness of some of the Committees, in venturing upon an infringement of the above Rules, in so far, as to procure the concurrent testimony of the palate, as well as that of the eye, in regard to the character of the subjects of their examination.

What Mr. Jaques was admitting, however obliquely, is that committee members were tasting the wares meant for display—bad behavior that, according to the Report on Fruit for the Annual Exhibition of 1847, was not evident in the public:

Notwithstanding the hall was constantly thronged with visitors, and many hundreds of samples of beautiful and tempting fruit within reach of every one, yet all seemed to feel and act as if it was placed there to be examined with the eye only. No instance of pilfering, and but little unnecessary handling of the fruit, was known to occur.
The first Horticultural Hall, from
Transactions, 1891-1892
(image in the public domain,
from Wikipedia)

In 1851, the WCHS built Horticultural Hall, its first permanent residence, on Front Street in the heart of Worcester. Horticultural Hall served as the home of the society until 1928, when the society built a larger structure—with the same name—on Elm Street, just a few blocks away. The second hall served the society until 1983, when it purchased a 132-acre parcel of land in Boylston. Here, at Tower Hill Farm, it created Tower Hill Botanic Garden, its present home.

Exhibits were the primary activity of the WCHS in its first century. While many of the varieties of fruits and vegetables named in the Transactions are no longer familiar, a few have become staples in the U.S. The Report on Vegetables for the Annual Exhibition of 1847 notes the presence of a novel cultivar: 

A solitary specimen of the Cauliflower, as a peculiar species of the Cabbage, was introduced by Mr. D.W. Lincoln, probably to remind the spectators of that esculent, which is said by a recent author, to have "furnished epicures of all countries with some of their greatest luxuries." 

Similarly, the Committee was pleased to see common potatoes, which were not yet a mainstay of the American diet.

In addition to detailed accounts of each year's Exhibition, the Transactions records the effects of larger historical and climatological events on horticulture: the Annual Report of 1864 reports that owing to the outbreak of the American Civil War, there was no Annual Exhibition in 1861; the Transactions of 1942 documents the effects of rationing during World War II; and the Report of Judge of Plants and Flowers of 1963 records the effects of the severe drought that gripped Massachusetts for most of that decade. 

Photo of the Systematic Garden at Tower Hill
(image in the public domain, from Wikipedia)
The Transactions also documents the decline of estate gardens (and the exhibitions they supported) in the 1940s commensurate with the rise of industrial agriculture, large-scale co-ops, and decreasing barriers to foreign imports. Changing with the times, the WCHS eventually shifted its focus to the smaller gardens that most people cultivate today. Tower Hill Botanic Garden still hosts flower shows and grows vegetables and fruit, but it also offers year-round educational programming, including a variety of gardening classes.

In the preface to the Transactions of 1847, George Jaques wrote, "The Horticultural Association, it should be borne in mind, is still but a nursery plant, and these few leaves can give only a faint idea of what its foliage, flowers, and ripened fruits may be in the years to come." He could not have imagined that 170 years later, the work of the WCHS continues, and that the "nursery plant" has become a garden.

Patrick Randall
Community Manager
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature


"Farming in the 1940s." Wessels Living History Farm. Accessed April 19, 2017.

"History and Mission." Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Accessed April 19, 2017.

"Life in the year 1842, when the Worcester County Horticultural Society began." Tower Hill Botanic Garden. (March 1, 2017).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New in-copyright titles for a new year

BHL licenses content under a Creative Commons
Attribution Non-commercial Share-alike 4.0 license
The first quarter of 2017 saw 39 in-copyright titles added to BHL, setting the pace for another record-breaking year. New international BHL Members and Affiliates, as well as grant projects like Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature, have contributed to the growing number of recent titles in the collection, as member libraries continue to chip away at digitizing the legacy literature.

Below is the list of titles for which BHL received permission in January, February, and March of 2017. While most of these titles have not yet been digitized, be sure to check the recent additions page, which is updated regularly. Links will also be provided on BHL's Permissions page once they're available.

1. Australian Garden History Society

2. Carol D. Allen
  • North American native terrestrial orchids: propagation and production: conference proceedings, March 16 & 17
3. Amphipacifica Research Publications
  • Fraterna
  • Newsletter
  • Dr. Schlecter's Hoyas
  • Hoya Basics: A Beginner's Guide to Growing and Caring for Hoyas
  • Hoya New
  • Hoya pollinaria: A Photographic Study
  • Hoya section sperlingii (vahl) miquel
  • Hoya Sections: A Complete Study with Modifications and Additions
  • Hoyas of N.E. New Guinea
  • Malaysian Hoya Species
  • Philippine Hoya Species
  • Samoan Hoya Species
  • The Ganges Hoyas
  • The Hoya Handbook

  • Smithsonian Libraries Translation Series
  • Bulletins of the Zoological Society of San Diego
  • The Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera
  • Field Notebooks: Beecher, Charles Emerson
  • Field Notebooks: Schuchert, Charles
13. Geological Institute RAS, Research Organization of the Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Bulletin of Commission for study of the Quaternary
  • Transactions of the Geological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1956-1991)
  • Transactions of the Geological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1992-present)
  • Transactions of the Institute of Geological Sciences (1938-1956)
  • Travaux de l'Institut geologique de l'Academie des Sciences de l'URSS
  • Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria
  • Kingia
  • Nuytsia: Western Australia's Journal of Systematic Botany
  • Western Australian Herbarium Research Notes
18. British Trust for Entomology
  • Journal of the Society for British Entomology
  • Transactions of the Society for British Entomology
  • Hawaiian biogeography: evolution on a hot spot archipelago
BHL wishes to thank the many individuals and organizations who have so generously allowed their publications to be digitized and made available to the world. If there's a book or journal you would like to see in BHL, please let us know!

And as always, don't forget to follow BHL on Facebook, Twitter (@BioDivLibrary), Instagram, and Tumblr

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cataloging the World's Aphids (and Their Relatives!)

In the 1950s, an introduced population of hemlock woolly adelgids (Adelges tsugae), native to Japan, was discovered on the East Coast of the United States. Since its introduction to the US, it has become a major destructive pest that is causing widespread mortality to hemlock trees. A member of the Adelgidae family, Adelges tsugae is closely related to aphids.

Another close relative of the aphids, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, has also caused extensive damage as a destructive pest. The grape phylloxeran (D. vitifoliae), originally native to eastern North America, feeds on the roots of Vitis vinifera grapes, stunting the growth of or killing its vines. In the late 19th century, after the species was accidentally introduced to Europe by botanists collecting American vine specimens, a phylloxera epidemic destroyed most of the wine grape vineyards on the continent. The species, a member of the Phylloxeridae family, remains a pest to worldwide commercial vineyards to this day.

But while both the Adelgidae and Phylloxeridae families include species of great economic importance, until recently, neither had been fully cataloged. Fortunately, thanks to help from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, comprehensive catalogs for both have now been published through Zookeys and can be accessed via BHL (Adelgidae and Phylloxeridae).

Three different galls, each representing a different species of Phylloxera, on a leaf of shagbark hickory in the Montreal Botanical Garden: P. caryaevenae (along the vein in front), P. caryaesepta (cut open in the middle), and P. caryaeglobuli (in back). Photo take in June 2016 by Khalil Abas, used with permission.

According to co-author Dr. Colin Favret, it's no surprise that science went so long without these comprehensive catalogs.

"Until BHL, the original literature for these groups was particularly hard to access," explains Favret.

Colin Favret, October 2016. Photo by Karen Favret, used with permission.

Favret, an assistant professor of insect systematics and biodiversity at the University of Montreal, studies insect diversity patterns, with a particular research focus on the evolution and systematics of aphids. In 2008, he began comprehensively cataloguing aphid taxa. This work led him to BHL. Since then, it has become integral to his research.

"BHL has become indispensable and is one of the most important literature resources I use. It may even be as important as the sum of the subscriptions in my employer’s library," lauds Favret. "It has significantly improved the caliber of my literature research, and I can point to a number of my publications that would not have been written if not for BHL content."

An aphid, Essigella sp., tended by an ant while feeding on the needle of a Californian Coulter pine, June 2013. Photo by Colin Favret, used with permission.

BHL has had a significant impact on one of Favret's primary research projects - the Aphid Species File, a database containing taxonomic, nomenclatural, and bibliographic information for all the aphids of the world, including all extant and fossil taxa.

"What makes this project unique is that I’m going back to the historical literature to confirm every original description and the validity and correct spelling of every name," explains Favret. "It is amazing how many errors in the secondary literature I’m able to correct."

Favret's use of BHL is usually prompted by research for a nomenclatural or taxonomic paper and directed by the need for a specific article, which he downloads using BHL's custom PDF generation service. He also uses BHL for teaching, linking to Haeckel’s phylogeny in his first-year animal diversity course and to Hooke’s flea in his second-year entomology course.

Of all the services offered by BHL, not surprisingly, it is the literature itself that is most important to Favret. He hopes collection development will remain a priority.

"Simply having the literature available for examination and download is hands down the most important and my favorite feature of BHL," expresses Favret. "Although there are any number of novel developments that might be interesting, I’d say adding new titles should always be BHL's top priority."

Some of Favret's favorite finds in the BHL collection are species descriptions that predate Linnaeus, such as those by French scientist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur. de Réaumur's Memoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes not only includes many aphid descriptions that were later cited by others like Linnaeus, but it also features, as Favret points out, "some really old aphid illustrations."

Réaumur, René-Antoine Ferchault de. Memoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes. T. 3 (1737). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Be it delighting the world through free access to historic literature and "really old" #SciArt, or supporting the creation of comprehensive taxonomic catalogs and databases, we're thrilled to see the many important ways that BHL is supporting global research.

And to all you invasive Adelgidae and Phylloxeridae species, watch out. Science is coming for you.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

BHL Booth at Earth Optimism Summit, 21-23 April 2017

This Earth Day weekend, the Earth Optimism Summit in Washington, D.C. will shift the environmental conversation from one of doom and gloom to one of optimism and solutions. The Summit will celebrate conservation success stories and fuel discussions about how to expand conservation impact.

Organized by the Smithsonian Institution, the three-day event (21-23 April) will bring together representatives from a wide array of fields (including science, journalism, the arts, public policy, and more!) for a series of presentations relaying over 100 conservation success stories.

The Summit will also include a public Innovation Commons event featuring exhibits showcasing the ways that a variety of organizations and projects support conservation and help protect biodiversity.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is participating in the Innovation Commons with a booth highlighting the many ways that BHL helps save biodiversity by supporting research around the world. 

Click here to learn more about how BHL supports science and conservation.

The Innovation Commons is open to the public. If you're in the Washington, D.C. area, we invite you to stop by our booth to learn more about BHL and join us in celebrating conservation success stories!

Atrium of The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004.
Friday, April 21st: 7:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday, April 22nd: 7:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Sunday, April 23rd: 7:30 AM - 2:00 PM

Learn more on the Earth Optimism website.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Notes from William Brewster: The Evolving Field of Zoology

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

As a part of the Field Notes Project, the Ernst Mayr Library is digitizing the journals, correspondences and photographs of William Brewster (1851-1919), a self-trained ornithologist and specimen curator at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), the first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and a co-founder and president of the American Ornithologists’ Union. 

Brewster recorded a lifetime of observations on wildlife and plants, changing landscapes, and daily weather, making his notes a valuable resource for modern scientists studying ecological change. After working as an animal specimen curator for the MCZ for many years, he also bequeathed his personal collection of birds and other animals to the museum. 

As I’ve worked to digitize and transcribe the Brewster collection, I’ve been periodically sharing interesting finds in a blog post series on the Mayr Library website. These posts highlight entertaining animal encounters, beautiful descriptions, letters, and more. 
Lower image: Portrait of Brewster with his camera at
Lake Umbagog, Maine, likely captured by his assistant, Gilbert.
Journals of William Brewster, 1871-1919 (inclusive). (1898).

I’ve been especially fascinated to track the development of Brewster’s thoughts on scientific collecting. I touched on this subject in a post on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog, “Digging into the writings of a 19th century ornithologist”. As I’ve continued to scan and transcribe the Brewster collection, an interesting story has emerged. It was a complex job to juggle the hats of museum curator, scientific collector, and bird-lover. 

In an 1886 letter, Brewster scoffed at the assertion that “the best was to study bird was with an opera glass!”[1] This was one decade before the Massachusetts Audubon Society for the Protection of Birds was founded, with Brewster as its first president. Despite his earlier reservations, journals from the 1890s show Brewster embracing new methods of data collection using binoculars and cameras, and reflecting critically on the future methods and goals in zoology. 

While he continued to advocate for the importance of collecting wildlife specimens, Brewster increasingly felt that humans had an ethical responsibility to carefully mitigate human impact on wildlife - and this responsibility belonged to scientists, too. 

Brewster returned for many years to make observations at Lake Umbagog, Maine, sometimes staying in his specially built house-boat.
The person standing on deck is probably his assistant, Gilbert. Journals of William Brewster, 1871-1919 (inclusive). (1898).

In the 1890s Brewster began to consistently document a deep conflict between his desire to study nature and his desire to leave wildlife untouched. Because his field notes are typically more focused on data than on personal details, these comments really do stand out and signal that this became a matter of great concern to him. In 1892, he observes: 
As on several former occasions when I have seen a Hawk catch a smaller bird and have listened to its expiring cries I was moved by deep pity and fierce wrath to an extent surprising on the part of one who, like myself, has killed thousands of birds without suffering more than an occasional slight qualm. But there is something peculiarly moving and piteous in the voice of a bird in the clutches of a Hawk - a quality of mingled pain and apprehension which the grasp of the human hand seldom or never elicits. [2]
Over the next few years, we find that he has gone from those aforementioned “occasional slight qualm[s]” to a daily struggle to complete his work. In 1896 he refers to collecting birds as “a most painful task”[3], and writes that he is sometimes “quite unable to bring [himself] to the point of doing it.” [4]
Close-up of a female moose Brewster sketched at Lake Umbagog, Maine. Journals of William Brewster, 1871-1919 (inclusive). (1896).

It’s clear that Brewster saw a need for some change in the current scientific practices. Birds were generally being over-harvested, for fashion but also for science. And not only was nature conservation on his mind, but it seems that he felt personally dissatisfied by the limited scope of zoology. Brewster saw the need to legitimize observational studies of animal behavior in a scientific community that was focused primarily on taxonomy and building large collections. While he wrote many letters to colleagues debating the species and subspecies designation of specimens, his journals are brimming with descriptions and speculations about animal behaviors. 

From his correspondences, we can see that his thinking was encouraged by Frank Michler Chapman, a younger friend and colleague working at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1890, Chapman had written to Brewster to express his concern that specimen collecting was destructively out of control: 
This miserable collecting. It is the cause of all higher failing, it lowers a true love of nature through a desire for gain. I don’t mean a specimen here and there, but this shooting right and left, this boasting of how many skins have been made in a day or season. We are becoming pot-hunters. We proclaim how little we know of the habits of birds and then kill them at sight. Sometimes I am completely disgusted with our ways and myself in particular… I long for an outing where the gun will be secondary, recorded observations primary, where I shall be entirely alone or with a companion whose object is my object. 
We expect too much, that’s the trouble. Collecting, we have at the end of each day some tangible result to show for the day’s work. But it is useless to expect some novel or interesting incident for every day[‘]s observation. But listen to this final result: If I had gone down the Suwanee [River] to record what I saw, I could now have written a more or less interesting paper, as it is I have nothing to say, but I have a hundred or so skins. The question with me is, how am I going to change this? ...We have degenerated to ‘gunners’; our success in the field is estimated by the size of our collections. 
... Will you embark with me on a novel ornithological expedition, whose aim shall be to really observe birds to learn something of them. Where the gun shall be a servant, not a master, where days may pass without a skin being made, where there will be time to speculate and discuss the habits of birds observed, where systematic observation of certain phaenomena may be attempted... Returning we could write a paper. How do you suppose this paper would compare with the ones we have to-day, where after a trip[‘]s experience all we can say concerning a given species is: Common, arrived ___. 
Such a paper with your name attached to it would start a new epoch in the study of American birds. Imagine any one now-a-days making an extended trip for the sole purpose of observing birds. I know, I have several papers in mind which approach this - yours are nearest. Do you suppose we can reach that condition of mind where one good observation will be considered worth fifty skins, - as it really is. [Line breaks and emphasis added.] [5]
A page from William Brewster's journal. Illustration reads "Made by Mr. Chapman from the feather of the ivory-bill shot March 24 and sent to me as a Christmas mount Dec. 25 1890."
Journals of William Brewster, 1871-1919 (inclusive). (1890). 
Brewster was too busy with travel and fieldwork to respond directly (in writing, at least) to Chapman’s proposition, but he did reply a few weeks later, “I have been off in my canoe along the ‘South Shore’ of Mass for the past month & have made a good many valuable notes… I left the gun at home for the first time in my life and did not once regret it, either!” [6]

How amazing it was to find, in writing, a proposal to launch “a new epoch in the study of American birds”! While specimen collections are an important part of modern scientific work, it’s true that the study of zoology does look very different today than it did in the 19th century, and here we see the seeds of that change. 

It would be easiest to paint Brewster as simply a taxidermist, or as an environmentalist, but as usual we find that the scientist was about as complex as the subjects he studied. Just as Brewster’s careful notes on species abundance and daily temperature are an invaluable resource for researchers, it’s enriching from a humanities perspective to uncover the personal stories that drove a major paradigm shift in the study and stewardship of natural world. While nothing quite compares to studying old documents in a quiet room, it’s exciting to be widening accessibility to these data and historical insights. 

The BHL Field Notes Project is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). 
Images used in this post were previously digitized with funds from IMLS. 

[1] Correspondences, Letter to George Sennet, March 7, 1886. Soon to be available in BHL
[2] July 28. Journals of William Brewster, 1871-1919 (inclusive). (1892).
[3] July 3. Journals of William Brewster, 1871-1919 (inclusive). (1896).
[4] July 9. Journals of William Brewster, 1871-1919 (inclusive). (1896).
[5] Correspondences, Frank Michler Chapman to William Brewster, June 15, 1890. Soon to be available in BHL
[6] Correspondences, William Brewster to Frank Michler Chapman, August 8, 1890. Soon to be available in BHL

Additional Resources: 
To read more about Brewster's encounter with the moose, read 'Notes from William Brewster: Moose!'
To learn more about how scientists use specimen collections today read ‘Natural history collections – why are they relevant?’ on The Guardian, or visit the page ‘Why Collections Matter’ on the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections’ website. 

To learn more about the origins of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, read ‘Hats off to Audubon’ in Audubon Magazine, and the ‘History of Mass Audubon’ page on the society’s website.

Friday, March 31, 2017

We All Remember the Hessian Mercenaries....

By Rick Wright 
Writer, lecturer, and professional tour leader.
BHL Guest Blogger.

The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777. By John Trumbull. Depicting the death of the American General Hugh Mercer at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777 during the American Revolutionary War. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We all remember the Hessian mercenaries, those drunken, bayonet-wielding louts hired by George the Third to put down his rebellious American colonies. Every American schoolchild learns about these monsters, and how they suffered their come-uppance in Trenton in 1776, when their Christmas debauch came to an abrupt and bloody end in a battle their rum-blurred eyes never even saw coming.

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776. By John Trumbull. Depicting the capture of the Hessian soldiers at the Battle of Trenton on the morning of December 26, 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For over 200 years, we’ve painted the German soldiers in America with a mighty broad brush. I’m sure that there were barbarians among them, but there were also educated men who spent their time on this side of the Atlantic studying this exotic continent and its inhabitants—when they weren’t drinking and fighting and skewering patriot children, that is.

Portrait of Baron Friedrich Adam Julius von Wangenheim. Frontispiece of volume 39 of the Öconomische Enzyklopädie of 1787. Source:

The botanists among these scholarly soldiers are the best known today. Baron Friedrich Adam Julius von Wangenheim (1747/1749-1800), educated in forestry science in his native Saxony, arrived in New York in June 1777, and would eventually see combat on the British side at Brandywine and Charleston. When he wasn’t in battle, though, he wrote that:

"without neglecting my official duties, I spent every leisure hour in acquiring both a theoretical and a practical knowledge of the woody plants growing in that temperate region of North America."

In May 1780, stationed in northern Manhattan, he completed his first book, A Description of Certain North American Trees and Shrubs, which appeared in print in 1781.

Title page, A Description of Certain North American Trees and Shrubs by Baron Friedrich Adam Julius von Wangenheim.

On returning to Europe in 1784, von Wangenheim expanded that work, which had covered 72 species, into a comprehensive treatise on the woody plants of North America and the possibility of transplanting them into German forests for timber and fuel.

Title page, Beytrag zur teutschen holzgerechten Forstwissenschaft, die Anpflanzung Nordamericanischer Holzarten mit Anwendung auf teutsche Forste. By Baron Friedrich Adam Julius von Wangenheim.

These publications and a mass of articles and essays made von Wangenheim a name and earned him an appointment as chief forester of East Prussia. There he made his most important contribution to zoology, a thorough study of the European elk in Lithuania.

The "moose deer" or European elk (Cervus alces). From Pennant, Thomas. Arctic zoology. v. 1 (1874). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Von Wangenheim brought his American experience to bear in his account, noting in his practical way that the species is called the “moose deer” in the New World, where native Americans use its skin for clothing, gloves, moccasins, blankets, and tents.

Portrait of Johann David Schoepf. Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine.

More ambitious still, and less intensely focused on the economic use of the plants and animals around him, was Johann David Schoepf (1752-1800), field surgeon to one of the most notoriously bloodthirsty of the German regiments. Like von Wangenheim, Schoepf arrived in New York in June 1777. Once the war was over, inspired by the famous tours of Bartram and Catesby, Schoepf spent a year traveling west to Kentucky and south eventually to the Bahamas. Trained, like so many physicians of his day, in botany, Schoepf was naturally most interested in American plants and their medical uses; among the professional colleagues he most eagerly sought out were William Bartram and Henry Melchior Mühlenberg, but he also collected plant lore from native Americans, country doctors, and “old wives.”

Title page of Materia medica americana potissimvm regni vegetabilis. (1787). By Johann David Schöpf. Digitized by University of Pittsburgh Library System .

Schoepf published his observations in 1787, in a comprehensive manual of the New World’s medicinal resources. Schoepf lists more than 350 plants, fungi, and lichens used in medicine, and ends his compendium with remarks on remedies derived from animal and mineral materials, ranging from human fat (an “obsolete, superstitious” practice) and dried rattlesnake flesh to amber and coal.

Today, Schoepf is most famous not for his pharmacopeia but for another book, the last he published before his early death in 1800. On his return to Europe in the summer of 1784, Schoepf took with him 64 live turtles, specimens that provided the basis for his Illustrated Natural History of the Turtles, published in Erlangen in 1792.

Title page of Ioannis Davidis Schoepff Historia testvdinvm iconibvs illvstrata. (1792) ("Illustrated Natural History of Turtles"). By Johann David Schöpf. Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

Among the species he treated there was one he named Testudo terrapin; Schoepf based his description and plate on two shells he had collected on Long Island and on two others sent him by Mühlenberg (perhaps from the market in Philadelphia).

Testudo terrapin. Naturgeschichte der Schildkröten. (1792-1801). By Johann David Schöpf. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

This was the first scientific description of the handsome species now known as the diamondback terrapin.

While von Wangenheim barely mentioned birds in his accounts of North American nature, Schoepf was more interested in things feathered. He found northern cardinals and blue grosbeaks in the Carolinas, and appears to have made close observations of turkey vultures, pointing out that the large, moist nostrils suggest that though “not proved, it is nevertheless likely” that they locate their aromatic prey by smell. Less credible is Schoepf’s claim that he and his companions encountered ivory-billed woodpeckers in eastern Pennsylvania.

Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). Catesby, Mark. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. Ed. 1, v. 1 (1729-1747). Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

The occasional misidentification aside, early American ornithology suffered a significant loss when Schoepf entrusted to Jacob Rubsamen his manuscript containing “numerous and precisely written descriptions of almost all the birds” he had seen in America. Rubsamen, a German immigrant whose Virginia gunpowder mill had been destroyed by the British at the end of the war, was to have sent those pages on to Schoepf in Charleston, but they never arrived.

One “Hessian” soldier who did make a significant contribution to American ornithology will probably remain forever anonymous.

Fringilla iliaca. Avium rariorum et minus cognitarum. (1786). By Merrem, Blasius. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Sometime before 1786, this unknown naturalist shipped the preserved skin of a large and colorful bunting to Blasius Merrem, the first professor of zoology at the university of Marburg. Merrem recognized the specimen as the representative of a new species, which he named Fringilla iliaca for the heavy reddish chevrons marking its breast and side. Who knows how long science might have had to wait for a description of the red fox sparrow had George the Third not leaned on his teutonic cousins for help?

In February 1784, five months after the treaty ending the American Revolution was signed in Paris, the great Welsh litterateur Thomas Pennant regretted that the “fatal and humiliating hour” had not only “deprived Britain of power, strength, and glory,” but had “mortified” him into abruptly stopping work on what was to have been a new Natural History of North America. Horrified as he was at the historic turn of events, Pennant was nevertheless confident that “some native Naturalist” in the New World would complete the work that he had begun. Little did he know that some German soldiers fighting in America had been working alongside him all along.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

2017 BHL Annual Meetings, hosted by the National Library Board, Singapore

During 14-17 March 2017, the Biodiversity Heritage Library held its Annual Meetings in Singapore, hosted by the National Library Board. The meetings were attended by 24 BHL partner representatives from nine countries.

2017 BHL Annual Meeting Group photo
LKC Natural History Museum, Singapore

Shakespeare in Print: The First Folio
Led by Wai Yin Pryke, National Librarian of Singapore, our hosts arranged three unique venues for the meetings. Committee meetings started off at the National Library Board building in downtown Singapore. The opening day of the meetings also included a curator-led tour of the exhibitions "Shakespeare in Print: The First Folio" (which included a copy of the First Folio on loan from the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries ) and "Anatomy of a Free Mind: Tan Swie Hian’s Notebooks and Creations". BHL was also treated to an overview of the rare collections from the National Library's Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.

Nigel Taylor with Ely Wallis
The BHL Open Day Symposium and reception was hosted by the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Dr. Nigel Taylor, Group Director SBG. At the close of the symposium, Dr. Taylor led a group on a tour of the library and archives of the Gardens and a walking tour of the fabulous tropical botanical garden. See earlier blog post for more information.

Dr. Peter Ng, Director of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore was our host for the BHL Partners' Meeting held on 16 March 2017. To open the meeting, Chair Nancy E. Gwinn provided a "State of the BHL" overview of the past year. Gildas Illien (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle) gave a presentation on how the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle became one of BHL's newest Members. This was followed by four project presentations:
Peter Ng
Nigel Taylor
Wai Yin Pryke

LKC Natural History Museum
All partners present were also given the opportunity to provide brief reports on their work over the past year and plans for the current year. These reports can be found here, along with reports from those partners unable to attend the meeting in person. Bianca Crowley, the BHL Collections Manager, also provided a 2016 collections report via video recording. The meeting concluded with a ceremony honoring the volunteers from around the world who contribute to the BHL. After the Partners' Meeting, Dr. Ng also kindly led a tour of the museum for all BHL meeting attendees.

Kalfatovic, Gwinn, and Diana Duncan (The Field Museum) at
Volunteer Recognition Ceremony
Gildas Illien
The final day of meetings saw the BHL Member representatives return to the National Library Board building to conclude the business portion of the meetings as well as the Membership Committee meeting. BHL Program Director Martin R. Kalfatovic gave the Program Director's Report, which included an overview of the coming year and outlined goals and technical priorities. Carolyn A. Sheffield, BHL Program Manager, provided a financial overview for the current and forthcoming year and, with Jane Smith (Natural History Museum, London and Vice-Chair, BHL Members' Council) led a strategic planning session.

At the business meeting, the Members voted in favor of restructuring the Affiliates fee to  USD 3,000 for the first year (with an included BHL workshop) and then an ongoing fee of USD 1,000.

The Members also selected the location of the 2018 BHL Annual Meeting. The 2018 meeting will be held in Los Angeles, California and jointly hosted by the Natural History Museum / Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Constance Rinaldo (L) & Jane Smith (R),
not pictured, Doug Holland
BHL Members also elected a new Executive Committee. The new BHL Executive Committee now consists of (see previous post for more information):
  • Constance Rinaldo, Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University (Chair)
  • Jane Smith, Head of Library and Archives, Natural History Museum, London (Vice-Chair)
  • Doug Holland, Director of the Peter H. Raven Library, Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Nancy E. Gwinn, Director, Smithsonian Libraries (Immediate Past-Chair)
The meetings were adjourned and followed by a reception where Dr. Gwinn was honored for her five years as BHL Chair. BHL also thanked all the staff from the National Library Board, Singapore, led by Wai Yin Pryke, that contributed to the success of the meetings.

Jane Smith, Wai Yin Pryke, Constance Rinaldo
& Nancy E. Gwinn (L to R)

Abigail Huang,Grace Chan, Thiruselvi Gopal, & Chris Koh
National Library Board Staff