Two Years Down, One Year to Go

As we enter into the 3rd year of the Historic Southern Naturalists Project, Josh Schutzenhofer (UofSC Digital Collections) and Linda Smith (McKissick Museum, UofSC) take a look at some of the different specimens and artifacts that have been digitized and catalogued during this one project.

The Historic Southern Naturalists project encompasses many institutions across campus and even the state. The collections are as varied as the contributors and working in the UofSC Digital Collections I am one of the first to see the project contributions as they come together. How exciting?!

We are now entering our final year of this multi-year project and I can tell you…I have seen some pretty interesting items and so, I thought I would share a few of the varied objects I have come across over the last two years…

Where do we start on this journey? Let’s look at the science first…plants, shells, minerals…there are some specimens that are outrageously beautiful and some that are dull and honestly ugly. (shhhh! We won’t identify the ugly ones!)

Take a look at these plant specimens:

Check out this beauty of a mineral:

And the shells…

How about an early preview of a meteorite which hasn’t been uploaded yet?

While sharing the scientific images and data associated with them are extremely interesting and important work, connecting these objects with correspondence, manuscripts, post cards, etc…is also important.

Correspondence like this one:

Transcription:

“My dear sir

I have not been unmindful of you since I came up to Aiken, & have several times been on the point of writing, but my time has been almost wholy engulfed in preparing my 3rd Fasc[icle].

With respect to the Phaenograms in your list of desiderata, I fear I can do but little towards supplying your wants. I have not collected, but very sparingly for several years, in this department _ and a large majority of those you indicate, I know I have not. Neither of the Kalmias, nor Saxifraga erosa, mentioned in your last, have I got. Some of the ferns I have in my herbarium, but no duplicates. The Listeras and Cranichis, I have collected, but of this last I furnished you whilst in St. Johns.

My duplicates are all packed away in a box, which it would take me several days to over-haul and examine. and if the search for them would be rewarded with success, I would cheerfully undertake the task to oblige you, but knowing there are not more than two or three things which could be found_ I must postpone it until you call for them in propria persona – I wish I had a stronger inducement to offer.

I might do something for you among the Crypts. if I knew your wants in their orders.”

Manuscripts like this one:

Finally, historically speaking, documenting the objects associated with the naturalists gives another perspective to these historical naturalists.

Like Thomas Cooper’s watch fob given to him by Thomas Jefferson or these scientific slides.

Above: Four glass slides stored in a specially designed plastic storage container.

Below: A slide of wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum) during cell division by meiosis in the archesporial stage. Prepared by A. C. Moore when he was at the University of Chicago (as evidenced by the labels on the slides). This slide documents the first known reference to the term ‘meiosis’ in history!!

Wow! Such a varied assortment of institutions, objects, and information is collected in this one project. But stay tuned…we have one more year of exciting images to share!

[Crossposted from original blog: https://miningmckissick.wordpress.com/2020/10/21/two-years-down-one-year-to-go/]

Historic Southern Naturalists: Lewis R. Gibbes

Lewis Reeves Gibbes, by J. A. Nowell, 1886 (McKissick Museum)
Lewis Reeves Gibbes, by J. A. Nowell, 1886 (McKissick Museum)

By Joshua Schutzenhofer

The Historic Southern Naturalists digital collection contains a variety of documents from naturalists that worked mainly with the South Carolina College, in Charleston. The items in this collection are some of the earliest objects and work in natural history. The Charleston Museum’s papers are part of the Historic Southern Naturalists digital collection and contain myriad historical ephemera including advertisements, books, check lists for collections, pamphlets, plant catalogs, postcards, and letters.

Recently, we received several letters from the Charleston Museum for digitization. Many of these letters are addressed to Lewis R. Gibbes from different prominent individuals. Lewis R. Gibbes (1810-1894) was a scientist that focused on botany, astronomy, and physics, and he communicated frequently with others in those fields. Gibbes was also a professor at the College of Charleston and wrote several articles on topics including mineralogy, chemistry, and botany.

Edmund Ravenel (1797-1871), a professor of chemistry and pharmacy at

Letter to Lewis R. Gibbes, professor at College of Charleston, from Henry William Ravenel, November 9, 1886.
Letter to Lewis R. Gibbes, professor at College of Charleston, from Henry William Ravenel, November 9, 1886.

Medical College of South Carolina, was one of the many that corresponded with Gibbes. John Bachman (1790 – 1874), an American naturalist, minister, and fellow professor of natural history at the College of Charleston, described several mammals not included in any scientific works, and was in frequent contact with Gibbes as well. Others with whom Gibbes shared letters with include John P. Barrett, Joseph H. Mellichamp, and Henry W. Ravenel. The letters discuss several different topics including the research that they were working on, resources that they shared with each other, or discoveries that they had made.

To learn about the history of the field of natural history through the collections of significant naturalists of the South, especially those associated with the University of South Carolina, visit the Historic Southern Naturalists website.

References

Letter to Lewis R. Gibbes from a friend, August 8, 1863, page 1
Letter to Lewis R. Gibbes from a friend, August 8, 1863, page 1

Stephens, Lester D. (2016, May). Bachman, John, February 4, 1790 – February 24, 1874. South Carolina Encyclopedia. http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/bachman-john/.

Stephens, Lester D. (2016, June). Ravenel, Edmund, December 8, 1797 – July 27, 1871. South Carolina Encyclopedia. http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/ravenel-edmund/.

 

Natural History, Digitized

By Mēgan A. Oliver, Digital Collections Librarian, UofSC. [Cross-posted from Mining McKissick, McKissick Museum’s blog]

Digitizing natural history collections is quickly becoming a specialty of ours, over at the Digital Collections department at the University of South Carolina Libraries. We’ve partnered with McKissick Museum for the past few years on their nationally grant-funded digitization project entitled ‘Historic Southern Naturalists’ (HSN); many thanks to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the grant. This digital project has been highly collaborative and has produced a useful and beautiful web portal from which to access myriad museum collections of fossils, rocks, dried botanicals, and minerals, as well as the library’s collection of early naturalist manuscripts.

The Bahamas Titmous[e], first edition of Mark Catesby’s “The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands”, 1731.
Since the HSN digital collaboration yielded such great results in providing museum and library users with fantastic historical resources, we’re excited to be back at the beginning of a new natural history digital collection.

In 2019, UofSC officially established the Mark Catesby Centre, a collective of scientists, librarians, curators, rare book experts, and naturalists, with invested personnel spread across the United States and the United Kingdom. The Catesby Centre’s work revolves around researching and promoting the ever-important findings and illustrative records of Mark Catesby, a naturalist who came to study biology in the Carolinas, Florida, and the Bahamas almost three centuries ago. Catesby’s seminal work predates that of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus by 29 years, with Catesby’s first edition of natural history findings published in 1729. Linnaeus would not release his now-famous biological classification system until 1758. The entirety of Catesby’s work in his multivolume set “The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands” was published over the course of 18 years, beginning in May of 1729 and ending in July of 1747.

Digitizing these rare and sometimes delicate natural history items requires specialty scanners and camera equipment, fully trained staff, and a great deal of time and patience. We strive to ensure that the color balance and tone distribution captured with our digitization equipment is as true to the physical, original item as possible. Calibrating and staging a single shot or scan can take up to 30 minutes, or the process could involve multiple scans of the same item in order to get the digital facsimile just right. In our department, this attention to detail often captures the iridescence and depth of the pigments used to hand color illustrations, as well as the texture of paper and the organic signs of age that rare books exhibit. Our staff, often graduates of the School of Library and Information Science here at UofSC, take great pride in producing such detailed work, as digital collections like these provide researchers with the next best thing to seeing a rare item in person; seeing it anywhere in the world at any time, online.

Last year alone, we digitized and helped to format metadata (data that describes the digitized items online) for about 12,000 items for the Historic Southern Naturalists digital collection, and we scanned a little over 2,500 pages and prints from our Catesby rare books.  In creating yet another stunning natural history digital collection for students, scholars, and historians to peruse, we hope to create a diverse wealth of natural history primary resources online.

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Image

The Bahamas Titmous[e], first edition of Mark Catesby’s “The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands”, 1731.

References

A Most Impressive Quilt from McKissick Museum

By Chauna Carr

We recently worked with McKissick Museum’s Curator of Collections, Christian Cicimurri, to digitize one of their new acquisitions, an impressive paper pieced mosaic quilt top with a very interesting backstory. Donated to McKissick this past April by Mr. Pickett Wright, the piece is an unfinished mosaic quilt top made of fabric wrapped around hexagonal paper templates. The fabric has been “fussy cut,” so the resulting medallions make a design themselves. (Fussy cut simply means when a piece of fabric has been cut to target a specific area of a print, rather than just cutting the fabric into random pieces.)

A photograph of a Young Rebecca Margaret Pickens Salley
A Young Rebecca Margaret Pickens Salley

According to Mrs. Cicimurri, “[Mr. Pickett Wright] is a direct descendant of  General Andrew Pickens (1793-1817) – the Wizard Owl of the Revolutionary War and a U.S. Congressman from 1775-1783.  He is not entirely sure who made the quilt or exactly when, but feels certain (from conversations with his grandmother—Annie Lena Salley Smith) that it was either Rebecca Margaret Pickens Salley (1832-1893) of Orangeburg, SC (great-granddaughter of Gen. Pickens), or one of her daughters, Emma Legare Salley Evans (1869-1963) or Mary Boone Salley (1863-1941). These daughters were his grandmother’s sisters.”

Family legend suggests the paper pieces used for backing were letters written home by a confederate soldier, but there is no direct evidence of this claim. The paper used is largely handwritten letters and handwriting practice sheets with the dates of 1872 and 1874 visible.

McKissick is very excited to add this to their robust collection of quilts ranging from about 1815 to around 2016. Keep an eye out for the final images of the quilt coming soon! To give you a taste, here is our team in the process of digitizing this masterpiece.