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The Field Notes Project collection is now over 400 items strong! We are excited by our progress and to share these field books to the global natural history community. For our feature this month, I would like to highlight some of the unexpected or eye-catching pages our digitization teams have come across so far.
In the wake of the Quakers’ immigration to North America, a taste for the study of nature came “quietly” into being among descendants from the “tolerant” zones, notably the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), a partner in the Biodiversity Heritage Library Field Notes Project, has spent the last year digitizing the notebooks of George Engelmann. George Engelmann assisted Henry Shaw, MBG’s founder, in establishing the Garden’s research arm and corresponding library. He arrived in Belleville, Illinois, sometime in the 1830s but soon moved to St. Louis where he set up practice as a physician.
On November 5, 1950, The Field Museum [the Chicago Museum of Natural History at the time] Curator of Mammalogy Colin Sanborn received an extraordinary letter, which began as follows: It wasn’t the request itself that was so unusual: individuals (or their descendants) frequently inquired about a specimen donated to the museum. It was the letter’s author, in this case, that made it stand out: Nathan Leopold, Jr. Prior to becoming part of the infamous duo Leopold and Loeb, convicted for kidnapping and murdering Bobby Franks, a 14-year-old neighbor, Leopold had been a birder and ornithologist.
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. Today, the WCHS is based at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which it established in 1986.
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.
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. For over 200 years, we’ve painted the German soldiers in America with a mighty broad brush.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library is an open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. BHL’s global consortium of natural history, botanical, and research libraries cooperate to digitize and make their collections accessible as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”