You may not recognize all (or even many) of the East Indian marine species portrayed in the first known book on fish to be published in color. Don’t worry. It’s not a lack of ichthyological proficiency on your part.
In honor of the first Olympics to take place in Brazil, we are highlighting a book contributed by The Field Museum featuring birds of South America, Le Vaillant’s Histoire naturelle d’une partie d’oiseaux nouveaux et rares de l’Amerique et des Indes (1801). Among several titles chosen for digitization from the Field Museum Library’s impressive Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library, housed in the collections of the Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room, the entry for the volume in Catalogue of the Edward E. Ayer Ornithological Library characterizes it as “a work intended to supplement his Hist. Nat. des Oiseaux d’Afrique (q.v.) by describing and figuring birds not properly included in that work.”
It is a small book, palm-size, with pages of less-than-fine paper, the well-worn letters of the type sometimes carelessly inked. The sparse woodcut illustrations are child-like in their simplicity and straight-forwardness. Yet John Josselyn’s New-Englands rarities discovered, printed in London in 1672, drew me in as I went about cataloging the work. Intrigued by the title and the early date of publication, I found myself reading an account of the landscape of my past, from Boston, “down east” (that is, up the coast as represented in the above illustration) to my place of birth, and points all around.
Here’s a word of the day for you: Teuthology. What does it mean? It’s the study of cephalopods. What are cephalopods? Well, they are a class of mollusks that include two extant subclasses: Coleoidea and Nautiloidea. Still not sure what cephalopods are? You probably know them by their more common monikers: octopuses, squid, cuttlefish, and nautiluses. There are over 800 living species of cephalopods known today. Dr. Ian G. Gleadall has been studying the biology of cephalopods (particularly octopuses) for 40 years. Dr. Gleadall (a marine biologist who works in Sendai, Japan) discovered BHL in November, 2014 while visiting the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. It has had a profound impact on his research.
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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.”
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