Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Delaware Museum of Natural History

Image adapted from a photo by Jim, the Photographer. Original on Flickr.
(CC BY 2.0)


For over 40 years, the Delaware Museum of Natural History (DMNH) has promoted the study of nature, investigated the planet's flora and fauna, and educated the public with its world-class collections, which are particularly rich in mollusks and birds (DMNH's collection of bird eggs is the second-largest in North America).

"The Egg Collection"
Photo by Jim, the Photographer
on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Founded in 1957, the museum began as an idea in the mind of John duPont, heir to the DuPont Chemical fortune. An avid naturalist, duPont travelled the world and amassed a collection of 113,000 birds and 2 million seashells. He used a portion of land from his family's estate to found the museum that houses his collections. It opened to the public in 1972.

Long after his involvement with DMNH had ended, duPont moved his attention to athletics. He used some of his fortune to open a training center for Olympic athletes on his sprawling estate in Pennsylvania. The athletes, trainers, and coaches who worked for him were known as Team Foxcatcher and enjoyed considerable success. As years went on, however, duPont's behavior became increasingly erratic. His deterioration came to a head in January of 1996, when, for reasons unknown, he shot and killed his star wrestling coach, Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz. This tragic story was (loosely) told in the 2014 film Foxcatcher.

Publications and Rare Books

Birds, shells, and mammals aren't the only things that John duPont put in the DMNH; he also contributed a library with an excellent collection of rare books. DMNH recently contributed some of these books to BHL through the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (EABL) project, which works with organizations across the U.S. to digitize unique and valuable material. The DMNH-contributed books include rare works from the 18th century and publications by the museum, including several works by duPont himself. Below are some highlights; the complete list can be found here and here.

1. Index testarvm conchyliorvm quae adservantvr in mvseo Nicolai Gvaltieri (1742)

Niccolò Gualtieri was an Italian doctor, malacologist, and professor at the University of Pisa, whose collection of shells is the oldest in the university's natural history museum. Particularly noteworthy in his Index testarvm conchyliorvm are his descriptions of argonauts, also called paper nautiluses.

Plates from Gualtieri's Index: L: T.36, Conch shells (Strombidae);
R: T.18, Nautilus.

2. Woodpeckers of the World (Monograph Series No. 4, 1982)

Lester L. Short, born in 1933, is one of the world's foremost experts on woodpeckers (family Picidae). A former curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History, Short travelled to over 60 countries documenting woodpeckers and in 1986 was one of the last people to see a Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis bairdii, in the wild. The bird is now believed to be extinct. 

Short's Woodpeckers of the World was written with the encouragement and support of John duPont; in fact, duPont arranged for his illustrator, George Sandström, to work with Short to produce the 101 color plates in the book.

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, illustrated by George Sandström.
From Woodpeckers of the World (1982), p. 621:

3. Philippine Birds (Monograph Series No. 2, 1971) 

John duPont wrote this book based on his own expeditions to the Philippines, beginning in 1958. In the foreword to the book, ornithologist Dean Amadon writes that "anyone who knows John duPont will realize that, once in the islands, he heads for the nearest mountains and jungles: he is not one to dawdle about in the gardens of local officials." Philippine Birds was written as an identification guide rather than a comprehensive work, with brief descriptions accompanying color illustrations by George Sandström.

Pittas (family Pittidae), illustrated by George Sandström.
From Philippine Birds (1971), plate 49:

Jean Woods, Curator of Birds at DMNH, worked with the EABL team to digitize these titles and get them into the BHL collection. Discussing the importance of putting them online, she said, “We’re excited to have the museum’s publications and rare books available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library to be used by researchers that have not previously had access to them.” She added that some of the titles, like Philippine Birds, have been out of print for years and that "many of the rare mollusk books contain original species descriptions which continue to be essential for taxonomic work." 

We are grateful to Jean and to the Delaware Museum of Natural History for so generously sharing their wealth of publications and rare books with the BHL community. 

By Patrick Randall
Community Manager
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature


About us. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Eckholm, E. (1986, May 5). Woodpecker, believed extinct, seen in Cuba. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Longman, J. (2010, December 9). John E. du Pont, heir who killed an Olympian, dies at 72. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Niccolò Gualtieri's splendid seashells. (2016, August 26). Retrieved from

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ex. Ex. Marks the Spot: bringing together primary and secondary sources on the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842

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

The United States South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842 was authorized by Congress in 1836 to observe the Pacific Ocean and South Seas. The four-year voyage — also referred to as the Wilkes Expedition or Ex. Ex. for shorthand — covered an expansive geographic region, including the Pacific Northwest, Fiji Islands, and South America. The expedition was under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the Unites States Navy, and the resulting collection is thought to be one of the largest early natural history collections, weighing in at an estimated 40 tons. The collection was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1857 and established what would eventually become the National Museum of Natural History. A narrative of the expedition was published in 1844, with a multi-volume publication on the results of the expedition published later.
Wilkes, Charles. United States Exploring Expedition. During the year 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Vol. 1 (1845).

As we have mentioned before, it was an interest in identifying the original source material for the Ex. Ex. which really became a major incentive to establish what would become the Smithsonian Field Book Project. Over the course of the project, team members cataloged the Ex. Ex. field books in Smithsonian Institution Archives' collection. Now as the Smithsonian Field Book Project team participates in the BHL Field Notes Project, this collection of original expedition notes is being digitized and published in BHL, giving researchers a way to view related content in one place.

Brackenridge, William D. Original notebooks of the botanist, volumes 13 - 14, Fiji Islands group. (1838-1842)

One of the sets of material SIA has digitized as part of the BHL Field Notes Project are the notebooks of William D. Brackenridge. Brackenridge was a gardener and nurseryman from Scotland who moved to the United States in 1837. Brackenridge became part of the Ex. Ex. as a result of Asa Gray resigning as Botanist of the expedition to take an academic position at the newly established University of Michigan. With Gray’s departure, William Rich was promoted from Assistant Botanist to Botanist, and Brackenridge was brought on to fill the assistantship role.

Drayton, Joseph. Botany: Echinoderms, drawings by Joseph Drayton(1838-1839)

Also part of the expedition team were two illustrators, Joseph Drayton and Alfred T. Agate. As part of the BHL Field Notes Project, we have digitized a set of sea star and other marine drawings by Drayton. The drawings include a signature and date, and often additional notes on the location where the specimen was found. As far as we can tell, these illustrations were not used for reference in the multi-volume Expedition publication, making this set of drawings a particularly good example of how field notes can inform research in conjunction with traditionally published material.

Smithsonian Institution Archives still has several field books from the Ex. Ex. to digitize for the BHL Field Notes Project, so be sure to check back over the next few months to see our whole set.

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

Finding Aid for “SIA RU007189, Brackenridge, William D (William Dunlop) 1810-1893, William Dunlop Brackenridge Papers, circa 1838-1875” 

Finding Aid for “SIA RU007186, United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842), United States Exploring Expedition Collection, 1838-1885”

Philbrick, Nathaniel. “The Scientific Legacy of the U.S. Exploring Expedition.” The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, a Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collection. 

Walsh, Dr. Jane. “From the Ends of the Earth: The United States Exploring Expedition Collections”.” The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, a Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collection. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Report on the XIX International Botanical Congress, Shenzhen, China, July 2017

XIX IBC 2017

By Martin R. Kalfatovic
BHL Program Director

Along with BHL Program Manager Carolyn Sheffield, I represented BHL as a delegate to the XIX International Botanical Congress in Shenzhen, China. Held during the week of 24-28 July 2017, the Congress (which is held every five years) drew over 6,000 botanists from around the world.

The Congress provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with colleagues from around the world and learn about some of the latest botanical research.


IBC logos on Shenzhen skyline

The program was divided into plenary talks, keynote talks, general symposia, and public lectures (see abstracts for all here). The Congress opened with a public lecture by Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Raven's talk, "Saving Plants to Save Ourselves: The Shenzhen Declaration" was on the public announcement of the Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences. Authored by fourteen illustrious botanists that formed the Shenzhen Declaration Drafting Committee, the declaration is an important statement on the role of plant science in a changing world. The declaration opens with:

"Actions and priorities to connect the global community of plant scientists with the world’s changing societies are today more imperative than ever. Environmental degradation, unsustainable resource use, and biodiversity loss all require integrated, collaborative solutions."

Noting the changing world we inhabit, the change evidenced by increased species extinction, global climate change, rapid changes in the practice of plant science, and refactoring of the world's economy, the declaration outlines seven priorities for strategic action in the plant sciences. These priorities will "allow society, with the help of science, to mitigate impacts of human activities on plant species, habitats, and distributions, and to approach formation of a sustainable world for ourselves and those who follow us."

These seven priorities are:

  • To become responsible scientists and research communities who pursue plant sciences in the context of a changing world. 
  • To enhance support for the plant sciences to achieve global sustainability. 
  • To cooperate and integrate across nations and regions and to work together across disciplines and cultures to address common goals. 
  • To build and use new technologies and big data platforms to increase exploration and understanding of nature. 
  • To accelerate the inventory of life on Earth for the wise use of nature and the benefit of humankind.  
  • To value, document, and protect indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge about plants and nature. 
  • To engage the power of the public with the power of plants through greater participation and outreach, innovative education, and citizen science. 

Raven's inspiring talk on the Declaration was a brilliant opening to the Congress (and was touched upon by nearly all speakers for the remainder of the Congress) and concluded with a rousing call to action: "Let us make this Congress a time of commitment to do better and resolutely seek a sound and sustainable future for all people."

Sandra Knapp

Another public lecture of note was by Sandra Knapp (Natural History Museum, London): "People and Plants -- the Unbreakable Bond". Knapp noted "Plants form the scaffold for Earth’s green ecosystems, but they are also essential for human survival. Plants provide most of the food we eat (directly or indirectly), our medicines, clothes, buildings, and even the air we breathe; they also beautify our daily lives." Knapp further detailed the importance of plants to humans and then pivoted to ask, "So we need plants, but do they need us?" Knapp's answer was yes:

"In this time of increasing human impact on plants, animals and natural habitats, our actions can make a big difference in whether plants are a part of an ecological civilization for the future. Plants do in fact need us - they need us to study and use them responsibly, both as scientists and as members of human societies."


The Congress presented a number of excellent keynote and plenary talks. Of special note were the following:

"Tropical Plant-Animal Interactions: Coevolution in the Anthropocene" by W. John Kress (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History). Kress illustrated his talk with research on the interaction of beetles, humming birds, and Zingiberales (including bananas, birds-of-paradise, heliconias, gingers, and prayer plants). Kress concluded with, "The geographic mosaic of these relationships across tropical islands, fragmented landscapes, and elevational gradients suggests that human-caused habitat alterations, biological invasions, and climate change may significantly modify and disrupt through time and space the historical patterns of ecological interactions. The future of today’s biological complexity in the Age of Humans, in the Anthropocene, remains to be determined."

W. John Kress

"International developments and responsibilities for the botanical community in plant conservation" by Peter Wyse Jackson (Missouri Botanical Garden). Wyse Jackson provided a high level overview of the importance of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), part of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and showed how individual institutions can help achieve the 2020 targets of the GSPC. He specifically noted how the Missouri Botanical Garden is working in the areas of conservation biology, ecological restoration, community conservation and education programs, horticulture and ex situ conservation towards this end. The World Flora Online project, based at the Missouri Botanical Garden and with partners worldwide, was previewed at the Congress and is a first target of the GSPC.

Peter Wyse Jackson

"Mapping Asia Plants" by Keping Ma (Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences). Ma provided an excellent overview of a number of resources that are helping to document plant life in Asia. Ma commented, "Because of the huge population and rapid growth of economy, biodiversity including plants are being seriously threatened in Asia." He also detailed the work of the Asia Biodiversity Conservation and Databases Network (ABCDNet) project, entitled Mapping Asia Plants for cataloguing species of plants and collecting distribution data. The importance of the Biodiversity Heritage Library China (BHL China) in providing access to literature was noted.

Keping Ma

"Developing integrative systematics in the informatics and genomic era" by Jun Wen (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History). "Systematics is the science of discovering, organizing and interpreting the diversity of all living organisms on Earth. Recent developments in genomics and biodiversity informatics are transforming systematics and have opened up many new opportunities." With that statement, Wen outlined the opportunities of big data, digitization, and genomics in developing the tree of life. The wider importance of this work was driven home as Wen noted "integrative systematics must proactively educate the public and policy makers on the importance of systematics and collections in the biodiversity crisis of the Anthropocene."

Jun Wen

"Thinking through the e- in e-Floras; or, Floras old, new, and not-yet" by Kevin Thiele (Western Australian Herbarium). Thiele delivered an provocative talk that touched upon the very core of how plant scientists do their work and to what level much of the scientific output is wedded to 19th century methods of dissemination while we are living well into the 21st century. He illustrated this with how many "e-floras" simply reproduce print methodologies. He challenged the audience to consider, "If modern taxonomy and systematics were invented, or re-invented, now (in the age of the internet, social media, citizen science and the block chain), rather than in the 18th Century, would we do it all differently?"

Kevin Thiele

In perhaps the most inspirational talk of the Congress, Stephen Blackmore (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) spoke on the seemingly simple topic, "Saving Plants". Blackmore drew on his personal experience in Pearl River Delta area to tie together the different sectors and stakeholders that are needed to create a world where plants, and by extension, humans, can both survive and thrive. Blackmore focused on the contributions of botanic gardens, arboreta, seed banks and other collections of living and preserved plants to achieve the goal of saving plants. Blackmore ended on the note that "we will need to work closely together if we are to succeed in passing on the Earth’s rich, green inheritance to future generations."

Stephen Blackmore


Speakers at the BHL Symposium

For the Congress, I, along with Carolyn Sheffield, organized a general symposium, "The Biodiversity Heritage Library: Empowering Discovery through Free Access to Biodiversity Knowledge" with colleagues from the Biodiversity Heritage Library's global partners. Presenters at the symposium were:


Many familiar colleagues participated in the General Symposium, "Green digitization: online botanical collections data answering real-world questions", organized by Shelley A James (Florida Museum of Natural History, USA) and Gil Nelson (Florida State University, USA).

Talks at the symposium included:

  • Rebranding botanical collections: Global societal and biodiversity data needs for novel research | Shelley James 
  • Invasive or Not? A collection-based investigation of a historically unseen, persistent green algal bloom on Pacific coral reefs | Tom Schils [unable to present] 
  • Current status and the applications of online botanical collection data in China | Zheping Xu 
  • Virtual Herbaria tracking usage and benefits for biological collections: An example from Australasia | David Cantrill 
  • Developing standards for scoring phenology from herbarium specimens | Jenn Yost 
  • From field collections to digital data: A workflow and digitization pipeline for reconstruction of a fossil flora | Dori Contreras [delivered in abstentia] 


Artron (photo by Ivan Lee @ Artron)

A number of excursions were organized for delegates. I participated in one excursion that highlighted the hi-tech industry that has led to Shenzhen growing from a small fishing village to a world-class city with a population of 15 million in less than 40 years. The first stop was at UBTECH, a robotics start-up company that markets a robot that can interact with digital assistants (such as the Amazon Alexa). The next stop was Nirvana for this former art librarian: Artron, a world-class printer that produces art books and catalogs for the museums and galleries of the world. We visited their library and exhibition spaces. The focal point of the facility was the "Wall of Art Books." Over 150,000 art books are on display in a four story space (that has to be experience to be believed). All books are available to view by members of the Artron private library. We visited the private library, consisting of 20 themed rooms (e.g. "Japanese Vintage Books" and "The Business of Art") as well as the main reading room with a touch pad catalog where readers can page books (after pre-viewing full-text digitized versions). After leaving the Artron facility, I couldn't help but imagine this is how the brick and mortar library of the future will look.

My second excursion was more on a botanical point. The Fairy Lake Botanical Garden is a 546 ha botanical garden which compares favorably with the great gardens of the world. First stop was the shade garden and butterfly pavilion, followed by the Fairy Lake and the palm area. We also had the opportunity to visit the National Cycad Conservation Center, which includes a fabulous collection of cycads from around the world and also a fossil collection. The Fairy Lake Botanical Garden also has a spectacular petrified forest area, with huge amounts of petrified wood that have been "planted" to look like a forest. We also stopped in at the Shenzhen Paleontological Museum (some dinosaurs and nice trilobites, my favorite extinct invertebrate!).

With Sandra Knapp and Peter Raven

The Congress featured a mid-week Gala that provided an opportunity to recognize the work of organizers and the program committee. The Gala also showcased a wide variety of Chinese entertainment that ranged from classical instrumentalists, to dancers and acrobats, to a Chinese doo-wop group. The accompanying buffet featured a number of tasty offerings.


The XIX International Botanical Congress was a unique opportunity for the Biodiversity Heritage Library to meet with colleagues from around the world (and from down the hall) to discuss important issues related to plant science and how we, as librarians, can work with plant scientists to accelerate their work and to achieve the aspirational goals as outlined in the Shenzhen Declaration.

XIX IBC 2017 at Night

Friday, August 4, 2017

Update re: Internet Archive Outage 8/4/2017.

UPDATE: Internet Archive is back online. Page images are now correctly displaying in BHL. If you experience continued issues, please submit feedback.

Thank you for your patience!


Status Posted 7:30am ET on 8/4/2017:
Internet Archive is experiencing an outage on 4 August 2017. As a result, page images are not displaying in BHL. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we will update this post and social media as the status changes. Thank you for your patience and #StayTuned.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Deconstructing Ecological Mirages with Help from Historic Literature

Within South America’s coastal ecosystems, vast expanses of subtropical and temperate salt marshes are dominated by an iconic species, the smooth salt marsh cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. This species is an important ecological engineer, providing habitats for a wide range of species and shaping the environmental evolution of many coastal ecosystems worldwide.

S. alterniflora is considered native to a wide latitude of the Atlantic coastline from Canada to Argentina, and the Patagonian salt marshes that it dominates are deemed pristine native ecosystems.

However, according to Dr. Alejandro Bortolus, a coastal ecologist, Head of the Grupo de Ecología en Ambientes Costeros at IPEEC-CONICET, and Co-Chair of the X International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions, this is an ecological mirage.

“Although wild and overwhelmingly beautiful, Patagonia is anything but pristine,” asserts Bortolus. “However, the general public and international scientific communities have largely embraced this mythic image of an untouched remote region in the uttermost ends of the Earth. They have come to believe in what I call ‘ecological mirage.’”

Dr. Alejandro Bortolus, during a field trip to the Patagonian salt marshes of San Antonio Bay, completely dominated by the invasive smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. Photo by Dr. Yanina Idaszkin.

For more than a decade, Bortolus and his colleagues have been examining historic records and accounts from early settlers and naturalists, leading to the conclusion that S. alterniflora was actually introduced to South America in the 18th or early 19th century as a result of human activity, transforming what were once intertidal mudflats into the salt marshes seen today.

Bortolus describes this transformation within the Ecological Mirage Hypothesis.

“The Ecological Mirage Hypothesis proposes that a long overlooked historical event -- where an exotic species is introduced to a given region but then mis-interpreted for centuries as native -- may cause unexpected radical shifts in the evolution of the affected ecosystems,” explains Bortolus. “Under such circumstances, even those landscapes deeply associated with the culture and history of a region might not be as pristine as we were led to believe.”

Of course, proposing that these iconic, “pristine” salt marshes are in fact dominated by an introduced bioengineer species has widespread implications. Bortolus and his colleagues, James Carlton and Evangelina Schwindt, needed extensive evidence to support their theory.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library proved to be an invaluable resource for obtaining this evidence, providing easy access to essential rare literature and historic records.

“The review in which the Ecological Mirage Hypothesis was proposed (Bortolus et al. 2015) took nearly a decade to complete,” explains Bortolus. “BHL helped to speed up the work considerably by supplying us with high-quality material impossible to obtain from other sources, including rare first editions, old newspapers, reports, and church accounts, settlers’ diaries, interviews, and personal letters, etc. All of the material is available for anyone to check, double-check and check again from any personal computer in what I consider a portable magical library.”

Bortolus (right foreground with his son Ivan in the backback) leading a research team during the first classification of intertidal environments at Monte Leon National Park, the first National Park with open sea coast in Argentina. Photo by Evan Schwindt.

Bortolus has been studying coastal ecology for over thirty years. His doctoral project involved the first manipulative experiments explicitly focused on the plant-animal interactions shaping the salt marshes of southern South America, including the first experimental evidence recording that herbivore crabs can significantly affect Spartina plants' production and reproduction. Over his career, he also provided the first comparative description of the Patagonian salt marshes, including the “rocky salt marshes” - a unique intertidal hard-bottom ecosystem dominated and characterized by Spartina species. His projects also cover the problems caused by the deficient use of Taxonomy in ecological studies (the "Eco-Taxo Interface").

Neohelice granulata, a semi-terrestrial intertidal herbivore and burrowing crab species studied by Bortolus during his doctorate. Photo by A. Bortolus.

BHL has been supporting Bortolus’ work since he first discovered it around 2007 after a routine Internet keyword search led him to the Library.

“I was astonished by the fact that BHL could provide me not only with classic records two or three centuries old, but also with publications written by Argentina’s pioneers of Botany, some of which I was struggling to find in the libraries of my own country,” lauds Bortolus. “In a matter of seconds, meticulously scanned publications supplied by some of the largest scientific institutions worldwide were there for me to use…and for free!”

Today, Bortolus uses BHL regularly as part of his research process. The Library has significantly improved the efficiency of his work.

“Before I discovered BHL, I was sending paper cards through the regular international mail to request the literature I needed - a process that normally took between 6 and 9 months for me to get the material (if I succeeded at all),” recalls Bortolus. “BHL is an excellent, unique initiative that creates a virtuous circle in which scientific knowledge is available to those who need it the most, helping them to produce more knowledge and bridging geographic and cultural frontiers as if they don't exist.”

The information Bortolus has gleaned from BHL not only provides a new understanding of the forces that shaped South America’s coastal ecosystems over the last centuries, but also underscores the importance of historical documents when designing conservation strategies to protect “native” species. “Natural” is not always what it seems.

“Historical records make one realize that even the most significant scientific findings can fade away, independently of how revealing they are,” explains Bortolus. “I feel that finding and bringing back those forgotten discoveries and ideas to analyze and re-discuss them is one of my highest responsibilities as a scientist. For anyone trying to achieve that goal, BHL is a dream come true.”

Bortolus in Canada during a visit searching for invasive austral cordgrass Spartina densiflora, invited by US Fish and Wildlife Service ecologist Andrea Pickart. Photo by A. Pickart.

Learn more about Bortolus’ work in these publications (

  • Bortolus, A. and Schwindt E. 2007. What would have Darwin written now? Biodiversity and Conservation. 16:337–345 
  • Bortolus, A., J.T. Carlton and E. Schwindt. 2016. Biological Invasions change the way we see Nature. Bare Essentials.1-5. 
  •  Bortolus, A., J.T. Carlton and E. Schwindt. 2015. Reimagining South American coasts: unveiling the hidden invasion history of an iconic ecological engineer. Diversity and Distributions. 21:1267-1283.
Learn more about the X International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions, which will be held in Puerto Madryn from 16-18 October 2018, here:

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.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

In-copyright Titles from the 2nd quarter of 2017

From April to June of this year, BHL received permission for 36 new in-copyright titles, keeping pace with the 39 added in the first quarter. The Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project, BHL staff, and new members and affiliates all contributed to securing permission and are now working to scan and upload. To put that 36 number in perspective, there are about 650 in-copyright titles in BHL, out of 125,000 total--that's just a half percent, but it's growing!

BHL licenses content under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license

Below are the 36 titles added in the second quarter, in the order permission was secured. For those that have already been scanned or uploaded, links are available. Look for the rest as they're added to the collection; you can check the recent additions, or see all the permission titles available in BHL on the permissions page. Titles in BHL have been digitized/contributed by the rights holders unless otherwise stated.

1. North Carolina Biological Survey and the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences
  • A Distributional Survey of North Carolina Mammals
  • The Seaside Sparrow, Its Biology and Management
  • Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes (with supplement)
  • Autumn Land-bird Migration on the Barrier Islands of Northeastern North Carolina
  • Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Fauna of North Carolina (Parts I-IV)
  • Research Vessel Dan Moore station logs
  • Bird Life of North Carolina's Shining Rock Wilderness
  • Fourth Colloquium on Conservation of Mammals of the Southeastern U.S.
6. Dr. Peter Shaw Ashton
  • Canotia (Digitized by The New York Botanical Garden, LuEsther T. Mertz Library)
  • Newsletter

  • Hardy Fern Foundation Newsletter
  • Hardy Fern Foundation Quarterly
  • Bulletin
  • Sempervirens
11. Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

  • Urban Horticulture Presents
  • Urban Horticulture
  • Camas Quarterly
  • E-Flora
  • Carnivorous Plant Newsletter
Thank you to the individuals and organizations who have so generously given permission for these titles in support of open access. If there's a title you'd like to see in BHL, let us know here. And don't forget to follow BHL on Facebook, Twitter (@BioDivLibrary), Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Report from the MBLWHOI Library: BHL Supports the Research of Recent Catherine N. Norton Fellows

The MBLWHOI Library is a founding BHL institution. This post is a brief look at how two of the Library's most recent Catherine N. Norton Fellows have used books from BHL's collection to support their research.

Beatrice Steinert

In 2016, Beatrice Steinert, a recent BA in Biology (2016) from Brown University, was an inaugural Catherine Norton Fellow. Steinert’s project, in conjunction with the History of the Marine Biological Laboratory Project, studied Edwin Grant Conklin's (1863-1952) work in embryology and cell biology.

Conklin documented the stages of embryo development in the marine slipper snail Crepidula fornicata using a camera lucida device. The camera lucida projects the image of a specimen being viewed through a microscope onto paper, which can then be drawn. Steinert duplicated Conklin’s work also using a pencil and a camera lucida. This painstaking process involves successively focusing on portions of an image, thereby gathering 3 dimensional visual data.

Beatrice Steinert speaking at the MBLWHOI Library about drawing cells of marine slipper shells (photo: Matthew Person).

Steinert used both physical texts and BHL content to inform the above mentioned duplication of experimental work performed almost 120 years ago. Conklin’s handwritten Johns Hopkins University digitized doctoral dissertation, The embryology of Crepidula (1891), can be contrasted with the later published full version of the same title (Journal of Morphology v.13 (1897)), by which time Conklin held a professorship in comparative embryology at Johns Hopkins University. Plate IV below is an interesting example of the finished drawings produced using Conklin’s camera lucida sketches.

Stages of embryo development of the marine slipper snail Crepidula fornicata. Conklin, Edwin Grant. Journal of morphology. v. 13 (1897). Digitized by Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

To get a sense of how Conklin worked with a microscope and what he thought about the role of drawing in observational practice, Steinert points to the "Notes and Drawings" section within Conklin’s Laboratory Directions in General Biology:

“Even though this was written [after the publication of his thesis] (there is no date on it, but I think it was written somewhere around 1905-1915) and for pedagogical purposes, it briefly describes in Conklin's own words his approach to seeing/observing through the microscope. Since my project was all his visualization of development in Crepidula, this work was helpful in understanding his process.” 

Regarding Conklin's scientific illustration, Steinert writes:

“While drawing by hand is no longer necessary to generate images of developing embryos, its role as an aid to observation, either from photographs or specimens themselves, still makes it a valuable and relevant skill. Especially for those wanting to learn or develop observation skills, drawing greatly enriches the experience of interacting with an embryo. It actively engages the hand in the act of seeing, heightens spatial awareness, and draws the eye to subtle details that may otherwise be overlooked.” 

Beatrice Steinert’s sketches from Conklin’s Crepidula fornicata slides (Photo by: Beatrice Steinert).

To learn more about Conklin's process and Steinert's work, see this fascinating video produced by the news website STAT:

This video and an accompanying article (by Hyacinth Empinado at STAT News) were published in STAT and Scientific American on February 22nd, 2017.

Sean Cohmer 

Sean Cohmer is the 2017 Catherine Norton Fellowship recipient. He is a PhD candidate and historian at the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University. Cohmer studies how the act of making choices about what to bring into the laboratory was rooted in a dramatically shifting context in the late 19th and early 20th century.

As an illustrative example, Cohmer looked closely at the marine organisms that Thomas Hunt Morgan was manipulating and putting under the microscope in the late 19th century before he turned to studying fruit flies. Morgan received the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his work in genetics.

Sean Cohmer speaking at the MBLWHOI Library about Thomas Hunt Morgan (photo: Matt Person).

Cohmer writes:

“I continually look to the Biodiversity Heritage Library for early work published by Thomas Hunt Morgan in the 1880s and 90s. For example, Morgan’s dissertation work was on the embryology and phylogeny (evolutionary relationships) of three genera of sea spiders commonly found in and around Woods Hole, Massachusetts. These were Pallene empusa, Phoxichilidium maxillare, and Tanystylum orbiculare
During this era of scientific publication, scientists commonly included lithographic plates as 'fold outs', which typically were diagrams or illustrations. What is so impressive and useful about the books digitized by MBLWHOI Library for the Biodiversity Heritage Library is that they have digitized full-page scans of these wonderful lithographic plates from the original publications. Many other libraries have chosen not to digitize these fold outs and so have missed an opportunity to fully represent the original publication in its entirety. For this reason, I look to the BHL first when doing research in the history of science.”

Morgan’s doctoral dissertation: "Contribution to the embryology and phylogeny of the Pycnogonids." From Studies from the Biological Laboratory v.5:1 (lithograph) Plate 4 (1891). Digitized by the MBLWHOI Library.

As Cohmer points out above, the care that BHL has taken to scan all of the “cover to cover content” in books and journals is noticed by researchers who expect digitized copies to reflect the full content of a physical book.

About the Catherine Norton Fellowship

Cathy Norton. Founding Vice-Chair of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and former Director of the MBLWHOI Library.

The late Cathy Norton was the founding vice-chair of the BHL and the Director of the MBLWHOI Library (of the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution). Funding for the Norton Fellowship was endowed by Cathy’s colleagues, friends, and family soon after her passing. The Fellowship celebrates Cathy’s commitment to sharing knowledge and information, her ability to inspire, her “just do it” attitude (an attitude veteran BHL staff members still fondly recall), and her love of a challenge.

The digital History of the Marine Biological Laboratory Project is a collaboration between the MBLWHOI Library and the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University. The Project, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2017, reflects a decades-long collaboration between Cathy Norton and Professor Jane Maienschein (Director of the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University). This relationship promoted history of science research from the physical library stacks to the digital realm in very much the same way the BHL has done for the global corpus of legacy biodiversity literature.

By: Matthew Person
Technical Services Coordinator
Marine Biological Laboratory 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cats & Women: Why the Connection?

This blog post incorporates research conducted for an upcoming digital exhibition called "Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922." Click here to check out the exhibition and book collection

Cats and women have long been connected in the public imagination. From ancient Egypt, to the Middle Ages, to the turn of the twentieth century, to the present – there has been an association between felines and femininity.

Gos., De Voogt. Our Domestic Animals: Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907). Painting by Henriette Ronner-Knip. Digitized by the Library of Congress.


One of the most glaring examples of this connection is the choice of pronouns used to describe cats. These examples from nineteenth and early twentieth century books illustrate the tendency to use feminine pronouns for cats:

"If a cat is seen to wash her face with vigor, it is going to be stormy, and if she sits with her back to the fire, it predicts cold weather." [1]  
"The cat has been called the 'perfect pet,' and not without justice. Pussy has always had her friends and her foes; her ardent admirers and her extreme detestors. Faults she has, no doubt, but the lack of an affectionate regard for the person who befriends her is not, as has been alleged, one of them. Though less demonstrative than the dog, the quiet rubbing of her fur against one’s person is no less indicative of supreme regard." [2] 

Conversely, dogs were usually referred to with masculine pronouns.

“Crazy Cat Lady” Trope 

Another example of the link between cats and women is in the ‘crazy cat lady’ trope. In Our Domestic Animals, Their Habits, Intelligence, and Usefulness (1907), the phenomenon is described:

“Yet in certain cities of every country we find persons who push their passion for cats to excess; generally, it must be said, they are elderly dames [women], who establish asylums where neglected, lost, or sick cats may find a refuge. Sometimes these asylums are organized in a practical and sufficient manner, in which case the motive that provided them is laudable; but often they are mere nests of disease and objects of scandal to the neighborhood.” [3] 

This ‘crazy cat lady’ troupe is linked to earlier beliefs in the connection between femininity, witchcraft, and cats. The tradition has also continued on into the twenty-first century: it is common for people to joke about single women who live with cats as crazy or scandalous.

James, Robert Kent. The Angora Cat; How to Breed, Train and Keep It. (1898). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Cat Shows 

Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 12 Dec. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

On the other side of the spectrum, women have also been associated with cat shows. The first United States National Cat Show took place in 1871. Women’s societies organized cat shows to raise money for charities, often animal welfare organizations. Newspaper articles from the time announce the upcoming shows and list the names of the exhibitors and organizers, who were mainly women. These shows also incorporated new scientific theories about heredity and breeding, as cat enthusiasts sought to selectively breed cats to develop particular traits, especially coat length and color.

Edna B. Doughty and Louise Grogan with Persian cats. 1920s. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Mrs. A.McAllister and "Smoke Persian" cat. Ca. 1910-1915. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Another interesting visual representation of the connection between women and cats comes in the photography of Arnold Genthe (1869-1942). In the early twentieth-century, Genthe photographed many celebrities in his studio, posing them with his cat Buzzer. Click here to check out more photographs of Buzzer.

Miss Anna Holch with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph. Ca 1913. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

But why was there a connection between women and cats? 

In his book, The Cat: An Introduction to the Study of Backboned Animals, Especially Mammals (1881), St. George Jackson Mivart shares one theory:

"The cat also is favoured by that half of the human race which is the more concerned with domestic cares; for it is a home-loving animal and one exceptionally clean and orderly in its habits, and thus naturally commends itself to the good will of the thrifty housewife." [4]

He highlights aspects of cat’s behavior that are seen as feminine in his day: domestic tendencies and cleanliness.

Another possible interpretation involves the intelligence and disposition of cats. In her text, Everybody’s Cat Book (1909), Dorothy Bevill Champion hints at a relationship between women and cats. She writes:

"Cats are very sensitive in disposition, and can easily be frightened by harsh treatment…" [5] 

This description would have been in line with stereotypical descriptions of women. On that same page she writes:

"After the many cases I have seen of cat intelligence, I can only say, if a cat is stupid it is want of education." [6] 

Reading these two quotes together, we see that Champion is making a claim about both cats and women. A central debate of the women’s movement during this time was whether women were as intelligent as men. Many argued that women’s shortcomings were due to less access to education, and not because they were less intelligent. Champion’s claim can therefore be read as a defense of both women and cats.

James, Robert Kent. The Angora Cat; How to Breed, Train and Keep It. (1898). Digitized by the Library of Congress.

Also, cats and women tended to be linked and compared with dogs and men.

“I class the Cat and the Dog to be as distinct in their individuality and with as much difference as you see existing between man and woman." [7] 

For more information about comparisons between cats and dogs, see this blog post.

In the end, these examples show that by the start of the twentieth century, the connection between women and cats was prevalent.

Here are some books about cats written by women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They are digitized on the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

*For more information about domestic cats in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see the digital exhibition "Wild Mouser to Household Pet: A History of Cats in Science and Society, 1858 to 1922." 

[1] Jacob Biggle. Biggle Pet Book: A Collection of Information for Old and Young Whose Natural Instincts Teach Them to be Kind to All Living Creatures. 1900. Page 56.
[2] Thomas Earl. Pets of the Household; Their Care in Health and Disease. 1895. Page 155.
[3] Gos. De. Voogt. Our Domestic Animals, Their Habits, Intelligence and Usefulness. 1907. Page 83.
[4] St. George Jackson Mivart. The cat: an introduction to the study of backboned animals, especially mammals. 1881. Page 1.
[5] Dorothy Bevill Champion. Everybody’s Cat Book. 1909. Page 15.
[6] Dorothy Bevill Champion. Everybody’s Cat Book. 1909. Page 15.
[7] Marvin Clark. Pussy and her language. 1895. Page 51.

By: Madison Arnold-Scerbo 
Junior Fellow Intern - Science, Technology, & Business Division 
Library of Congress, Washington DC