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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

2017 BHL Open Day at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

On 15 March 2017, the Singapore Botanic Gardens hosted a Biodiversity Heritage Library Open Day in conjunction with the BHL Annual Meeting, the latter of which occurred March 14-17 and was hosted by the National Library, Singapore.

BHL Open Day invited local guests to learn more about BHL and its impact on global science. The program featured speakers from the BHL community and biodiversity-related disciplines. Speakers included: Dr. Nigel Taylor (Group Director, Singapore Botanic Gardens, National Parks Board); Martin R. Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director and Assistant Director, Digital Programs and Initiatives Division, Smithsonian Libraries); Wai Yin Pryke (Director, National Library Singapore); Professor Peter K.L. Ng (Head, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum); Grace Costantino (BHL Outreach and Communication Manager); and Dr. Elycia Wallis (Manager of Online Collections, Museums Victoria).

Wai Yin Pryke welcoming guests to the BHL Open Day 2017. Photo by Grace Costantino.

Following welcome speeches by Wai Yin Pryke and Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn (Director, Smithsonian Libraries and Immediate Past-Chair of the BHL Members' Council), Dr. Nigel Taylor provided context to the event's venue by presenting a history of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which was founded in 1859. Dr. Taylor incorporated archival photographs into his presentation to document the development of the gardens and demonstrate how it played an important role in early agricultural development in Singapore.

Following Dr. Taylor, Martin Kalfatovic provided an overview of BHL, focusing on global initiatives, program growth, and collection usage. Wai Yin Pryke followed with a presentation on the BHL Singapore story to date. BHL Singapore, founded by the National Library Board, Singapore, joined the BHL community in 2014, and has since been working to digitize the collections of the National Library and mobilize participation from other Singapore institutions.

Dr. Peter Ng presenting at BHL Open Day 2017. Photo by Grace Costantino.

Dr. Peter Ng led the afternoon session with a presentation about the history of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which hosted the BHL Partners meeting on 16 March, and a "taxonomist's wish-list" for future BHL development. An expert on aquatic biodiversity, Dr. Ng's personal research focuses on the systematics and diversity of decapod crustaceans. Among his wish-list items for BHL were the expansion of curated collections; allowing users to correct metadata in BHL, such as date information; the simplification of high resolution image downloads; and collaboration with taxonomists to create checklists and bibliographies.

The final portion of the afternoon session featured presentations by Grace Costantino on BHL outreach initiatives and Dr. Elycia Wallis on the ways that biodiversity literature in BHL provides a window into the strange, exotic, and marvelous biodiversity of Australia.

Tour of the Singapore Botanic Gardens Library by Dr. Nigel Taylor. Photo by Martin R. Kalfatovic.

Following the BHL Open Day presentations, attendees were treated to a tour of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Library and an evening reception. Highlights of the tour included the giant tiger orchid, which is likely the world's oldest and largest specimen orchid, several heritage trees, including the Tembusu tree featured on the Singapore $5 note, and entertaining displays from local clouded monitor lizards (Varanus nebulous) digging in the leaf litter for food.

The giant tiger orchid at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo by Martin R. Kalfatovic.

The Tembusu tree at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, featured on the $5 Singapore note. Photo by Martin R. Kalfatovic.

Clouded monitor lizards (Varanus nebulous) digging for food. Photo by Martin R. Kalfatovic.

BHL staff were thrilled to have an additional opportunity to share BHL with the local Singapore community through a public talk at the National Library, Singapore on 17 March. Martin Kalfatovic and Grace Costantino provided an overview of BHL and shared stories about the impact BHL has on various research disciplines to nearly 50 attendees. See the event slides here.

Attendees of the BHL Public Talk at the National Library, Singapore on 17 March, 2017. Photo by National Library, Singapore.

Martin Kalfatovic presenting at the BHL Public Talk at the National Library, Singapore on 17 March, 2017. Photo by National Library, Singapore. 

Grace Costantino presenting at the BHL Public Talk at the National Library, Singapore on 17 March, 2017. Photo by National Library, Singapore.

We thank the National Library, Singapore and the Singapore Botanic Gardens for organizing and hosting these public events during our Annual Meeting in Singapore! Both events provided us with an excellent opportunity to share the story of BHL's impact on global science, identify future development priorities based on input from the audience and guest speakers, and network with the local Singapore community.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

BHL Members' Council Elects New Executive Committee

The Biodiversity Heritage Library Members’ Council elected a new Executive Committee at the BHL Annual Meeting in Singapore. The Executive Committee appointments include: Constance Rinaldo (Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University), Chair; Jane Smith (Natural History Museum Library, London), Vice-Chair; Doug Holland (Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H. Raven Library), Secretary; and Nancy E. Gwinn (Smithsonian Libraries), Immediate Past-Chair.

"It is an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to lead the Biodiversity Heritage Library as we forge ahead into the next 10 years," affirmed Rinaldo. "I thank my predecessor, Dr. Nancy Gwinn, for her work in strengthening the BHL and ensuring a strong foundation with the extraordinary Secretariat staff housed at the Smithsonian Libraries. I also thank Professor James Hanken, Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, for the museum's support and encouragement of the BHL over these years. I look forward to working with current and future BHL partners to expand organizational and technological sustainability as we invest in the future of open data, open science and research connections across disciplines."

The BHL Executive Committee provides strategic leadership and governance decisions for the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Officers are elected for two-year terms by the BHL Members’ Council, which is comprised of one representative from each BHL Member institution. This year’s elections took place on 17 March 2017 during the business portion of the Members’ Annual Meeting, hosted by the National Library Board, Singapore.

The current committee replaces the previous appointments elected in 2015: Nancy E. Gwinn, Chair; Constance Rinaldo, Vice-Chair; Jane Smith, Secretary.

"It has been my honor to serve as the Chair of the BHL Members' Council for the past five years, and I am delighted to see Constance (Connie) Rinaldo assume this role, working with Jane Smith as Vice Chair and Doug Holland as Secretary," expressed Gwinn. "Connie’s contributions as Vice-Chair, with its responsibility for the Global Partners, have already played a vital role in the success of BHL. I am confident that under Connie’s leadership, the BHL will continue to thrive and empower research on a global scale. In the newly defined role of Immediate Past-Chair, I look forward to continuing my work with her and the rest of the Members' Council to ensure the growth and prosperity of the Biodiversity Heritage Library."

BHL Executive Committee Bios 

Constance Rinaldo (Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University), Chair. 

Constance Rinaldo has been the Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University since 1999. She is a founding member (2005) and previous Vice-Chair of the BHL Members’ Council. Rinaldo has a BA in Biology and Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, an MSc in Zoology from the University of Connecticut, and an MLS from the University of Maryland. Prior to coming to Harvard, Rinaldo spent 10 years as Head of Collections in the Biomedical Libraries at Dartmouth College and in the late 1980s was an assistant in the National Agricultural Library Text Digitization Project.

Jane Smith (Natural History Museum Library, London), Vice-Chair. 

Jane Smith has served as the Head of Library and Archives at the Natural History Museum, London since September 2012, before which she served as the Head of Library Collections and Services (2006 – 2012). Prior to joining the NHM, she was Deputy Librarian and then Librarian at the British Medical Association and Centre Manager at the Department of Health-funded National Centre for Clinical Audit, which has since evolved into the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). From 2015-2017, Smith served as the Secretary of the BHL Members’ Council.

Doug Holland (Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H. Raven Library), Secretary. 

Doug Holland started at the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1994, serving first in the Horticulture Division, followed by several years as a botanical research assistant in the Herbarium and several more as archivist and historian. In 2004, he became Director of the Peter H. Raven Library. He now manages the Garden’s world-class research library, archives and digitization program. He is a founding member of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), a past-President of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, and also manages the St. Louis Research Library Consortium.

Nancy E. Gwinn (Smithsonian Libraries), Immediate Past-Chair. 

Nancy E. Gwinn has been director of the Smithsonian Libraries since 1997. She oversees a network of 21 libraries and central services units and is a recognized leader in international librarianship, in developing digital libraries, in building cooperative programs and partnerships, and in promoting Smithsonian scholarship to external communities. Under Gwinn’s leadership, the Libraries initiated and became a lead partner in establishing the international Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and the program’s Secretariat. She served as chair of the BHL Members Council from 2011–2017 and member of the executive committee of a companion project, the Encyclopedia of Life.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Celebrating Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker was one of the most important botanists of the 19th century and Kew Gardens' most illustrious Director (1865-1885). To celebrate the bicentenary of his birth this year, BHL is joining the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to highlight Hooker's works and contributions as part of the #JDHooker2017 campaign.

To coincide with the opening of a new exhibit at Kew's Shirley Sherwood Gallery, BHL is featuring Hooker's publications and related artworks in our online book collection and Flickr albums. Learn more about the BHL collections here.

Learn more about Kew's exhibit, which opened on 25 March, in the post below. Then, be sure to follow #JDHooker2017 on social media as we celebrate Hooker's life and works.

We hope you'll also join us again the week of 26-30 June 2017 as we continue our celebrations as part of a larger campaign in conjunction with The Making of Modern Botany conference at Kew Gardens, hosted on 30 June 2017.

Joseph Hooker the ‘King of Kew’ 

By Rebecca Carter 
Gallery Assistant, The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art 
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, pen and ink on paper (1886) by Theodore Blake Wirgman.

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) was a highly respected botanist and relentless explorer, who is regarded as the founder of modern botanical classification. He held the position of Director at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for twenty years, adding thousands of specimens to its collection.

To mark the bicentenary of his birth, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery has curated an exhibition exploring his extensive travels and contribution to the field of botany. The collection at Kew contains numerous artifacts, sketches and paintings relating to Hooker’s incredible life and professional journey, of which a proportion is showcased in this exhibition. By showing a diverse selection of work, the exhibition looks to uncover the impact Hooker had on the botanical world, as well as discovering what made Joseph Hooker the ‘King of Kew’.

The title of the exhibition, Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place, refers to Hooker’s belief that specimens should be collected and then classified scientifically. He also proposed that plant’s habitats should be better understood and that there should be a place and opportunity to elevate the scientific status of botany to the same scholarly status as other sciences such as physics.

Kew was at the very heart of Hooker's career and through his travels and publications he transformed Kew from a rather run-down royal pleasure garden into the world-class scientific establishment it is recognized as today.

The public at the time met with Hooker’s desire to protect Kew’s role as a serious scientific institution with apparent antipathy; it was reported in newspapers that Londoners were outraged to find the gates to the Gardens locked in the mornings on bank holidays. This public outcry led to Hooker clashing with politicians and the public several times and ended with him conceding to early openings. On display in the exhibition are cartoons and notices from contemporary newspapers, exploring this fascinating history whilst Hooker was Director of Kew.

Kew Gardens Grievances notice from The Times, published October 1879, facsimile print.

Today, Kew is a leading centre for scientific botanical research and it is partly down to Hooker’s explorations that this foundation was set. On 30 September 1839 when he was 22 years old, Hooker set off on his first voyage. He was the youngest crew member on Her Majesty’s Discovery Ship Erebus, serving as the ship's assistant surgeon and the expedition’s botanist.

On his many travels he drew and collected plants, naming many previously unknown-to-science plants and trees. Hooker named many plants after botanists and friends as a way of thanking and acknowledging fellow scientists. For example, Hooker named the Tasmanian gum tree Eucalyptus gunnii after his friend the collector Ronald Campbell Gunn. Hooker also had plants named after himself, such as the New Zealand ‘golden wand’ Bulbinella hookeri which was named by his friend and New Zealand missionary William Colenso.

Hooker didn’t confine his drawings to plants. He also sketched houses, animals and landscapes. Our favourite pieces on display in this exhibition depict his time in the Himalayas. The selection of sketches below reveals detailed drawings of a variety of views of Lacham valley and Lamteng village.

Hooker’s good friend and talented artist Walter Hood Fitch drew the middle sketch at the top, which is a re-work of Hooker’s original drawing. Fitch often sketched Hooker’s drawings, preparing lithographs for botanical books such as his Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya (1849-51).

The intricate sketch of the village and landscape shows that Hooker was also thinking about the habitat and the environment the native plants were exposed to. His drawing of a Yak also demonstrates an understanding of local culture and way of life. Yaks were the most important domesticated animal in the Himalaya and the detail in this sketch is exquisite.

From above Lamteng village looking up Lachem valley, (1848) Joseph Dalton Hooker, pencil, pen and watercolour on paper, with lithograph.

The galleries at Kew have more than one reason to be grateful for Hooker’s influence as Director of Kew. In 1879, Marianne North wrote to Hooker offering to build a gallery in which to display her botanical artwork. Hooker gave North permission, and the Marianne North Gallery was duly built in a mixture of classical and colonial style, finally opening in its finished form in 1886. Without Hooker’s permission, Kew would not have this significant collection of Victorian botanical art, which serves as an important catalogue of the world’s plants. Alongside the 833 paintings on display, North also collected samples of wood from the countries she visited. The unusual way in which the gallery was curated is unique to Kew, and it is always a breath-taking experience.

In summary, Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place looks at a range of fascinating artifacts and paintings to explore the professional journey of Joseph Hooker as second Director of Kew. It primarily looks at how Hooker revolutionized botany to a scientific status and examines his influence on Kew’s transformation from a simple pleasure garden to the scientific centre of research it is known for today.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

John Torrey's Calendarium Florae for the Vicinity of New York (1818, 1819 & 1820)

By Daniel Atha
Director of Conservation Outreach
The New York Botanical Garden

With contributions by Susan Lynch, Vanessa Bezemer Sellers and Stephen Sinon of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden

Crayon drawing of John Torrey by Sir Daniel Macnee. From the collection of Sir William Hooker, Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England.

John Torrey (1796-1873) was a preeminent early American botanist. From 1818-1820, Torrey kept a careful record of the plants that he encountered in and around New York City and called his work Calendarium Florae for the Vicinity of New York. The Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden is the proud owner of this remarkable manuscript, which was recently digitized and added to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The image below depicts a full page spread from the Calendarium, showing Torrey’s neatly written and methodically arranged list of plants.

Torrey, John. Calendarium Florae for the Vicinity of New York. Digitized by the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, New York Botanical Garden.

The map below shows many of the locations noted in the Calendarium, including Greenwich (now Greenwich Village), the Elgin Botanic Garden (now Rockefeller Center), Bloomingdale (now the Upper West Side of Manhattan), and Hoboken, New Jersey. The map dates from 1811, shortly before Torrey started work on the Calendarium, and helps us visualize the region where Torrey lived and conducted his early studies.

Eddy, John H. Map of the Country Thirty Miles Round the City of New York. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Torrey's Calendarium is what today is called a phenological record; a document registering the name of an organism and the date of some biological phenomenon. Torrey's Calendarium lists the plants by scientific name, date of first bloom, and the locations for several hundred species; in this case plants observed around the New York archipelago, from the salt marshes of Brooklyn to the cedar swamps of New Jersey. On his travels through the City, Torrey detailed the common plants of roads, gardens, and woodlots of lower Manhattan, including the stagnant waters around Greenwich, the swamp flora behind the Elgin Botanic Garden, and the wildflowers of Bloomingdale woods. Through his eyes and through his pen, we are witness to the last generation of Rock Harlequin, Tall Thimbleweed, Tuckahoe, Pinweed, Slender Rose Gentian, Smooth Yellow False Foxglove and many others plants soon to be extirpated from the island of Manhattan, as the hills were leveled and the rubble used to fill the swamps. Some species, like Sphagnum Moss, Sundew, and Three-leaf Goldthread (shown in the images below), were eradicated entirely from the boundaries of the City, and, due to a warming climate, are difficult to grow today even under cultivation.

Coptis trifolia or Three-leaf Goldenthread observed by John Torrey. Calendarium Florae for the Vicinity of New York by John Torrey. Digitized by The New York Botanical Garden.

Coptis trifolia or Three-leaf Goldenthread from American Medical Botany: Being a Collection of the Native Medicinal Plants of the United States by Jacob Bigelow. v.1. 1817. p.60. Digitized by Missouri Botanical Garden.

In the year 1818, the first year in which observations were recorded in the Calendarium, John Torrey, only 22 years of age, graduated with a degree in medicine from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. During this time, he was also helping to found the Lyceum of Natural History in New York (the forerunner of the New York Academy of Sciences), and published several important articles in the first issue of the Lyceum’s Annals. Meanwhile he was also nearing completion of a Flora of the vicinity of New York, and he was laying the foundation for his lifelong ambition to publish a Flora of North America.

John Torrey was not the first to record the phenology of plants. Farmers, priests, philosophers, and scientists from the earliest days of agriculture and writing recorded the occurrences of biological phenomena to track seasons and planting cycles. Nor was Torrey the first American to keep such records. As in many areas of the arts and sciences in America, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) blazed the trail for record keeping, experimentation and advocacy for plant science. Jefferson's Garden book (what he called a "Kalendar"), spans the years 1766 to 1824 and records not only planting dates and harvest times of garden vegetables, but includes the bloom cycles of woodland wildflowers of the Virginia Piedmont.

Plant records such as those kept by Thomas Jefferson, John Torrey, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), and many others since then, bridge a critical gap in phenological research, much as dendrochronolgists use tree rings from new archeological finds to complete a portrait of past climactic events. In addition to providing a window on the past, Torrey's Calendarium is also a window on the future. Those studying climate change and its biological signals will find a wealth of new information. Torrey's data are the ‘holy grail’ of phenological recording due to his stature as the unrivaled taxonomic expert of his day. In addition, Torrey’s observations are confirmed by herbarium specimens, preserved to this day in the collections of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at The New York Botanical Garden. Completed at the dawn of the 19th Century, Torrey's Calendarium is a scientifically rigorous phenological record for New York City. The Calendarium can be thought of as an early draft of his first major professional achievement, his Flora of New York City, Catalogue of Plants Growing Spontaneously within Thirty Miles of the City of New York, published in 1819.


  • Eustis, Elizabeth S., and David Andrews. "Creating a North American Flora." Flora Illustrata: Great Works from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden. Edited by Susan M. Fraser and Vanessa Bezemer Sellers. New York: The New York Botanical Garden and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. 
  • Robbins, Christine Chapman. “John Torrey (1796-1873). His Life and Times.” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, vol. 95, no. 6, 1968. 515-645. Accessed 07 March 2017.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Keeping Up With NDSR!

Hello all, BHL NDSR Cohort speaking!

For the past couple of weeks we have been busy settling into our residencies, attending some conferences and preparing for future presentations. We created the NDSR at BHL blog to provide weekly updates about our projects. We have already engaged with the biodiversity community and applied feedback from readers to focus our research. Our blog draws from BHL’s open communication philosophy by encouraging feedback and dialogue on our posts.To catch you up to speed, we have prepared a quick overview of our recent blog posts.
  • Katie gave us an overview of transcription tools including: Ben Brumfield’s FromThePage, the Australian Museum’s DigiVol, the Smithsonian Institution’s Transcription Center, and The Zooniverse’s Project Builder and their Scribe development framework. As she works to integrate transcription services for handwritten materials (such as field notes and correspondence) into BHL, Katie explores these tools and their applicability to handwritten scientific materials. 
  • In order to perform a content analysis of the BHL corpus, Alicia began to map out what is included in the scope of biodiversity literature to begin to understand where BHL fits and where it still lacks coverage.
  • We also reflected on several professional events. All of the residents attended the “BHL Bootcamp” hosted by Smithsonian Libraries in February where we were introduced to the BHL staff and administration, learned BHL history, how to use BHL technology and the BHL mission and culture. A few weeks after Bootcamp, Marissa attended a training session on the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (EABL) project presented by Mariah Lewis of the New York Botanical Garden held at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. In early March, Marissa and Katie both attended the Code4Lib Conference in LA which brings together professionals who work for library, museums, and archives and deal with technology. Marissa and Katie each wrote reflections on workshops they attended and the lessons learned.     
We'll be providing a compendium of our blog posts like this every 6 weeks here on the BHL Blog. Be sure to subscribe to NDSR at BHL if you would like to read each new post as it is published. Next up, Ariadne will introduce history, important considerations, and ideas surrounding her project, and Pam will provide an update on her project about getting to know the BHL users and how they interact with BHL.