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/]

Exploring Nature Online!

By Kendall Hallberg

Well Quarantine Vibes ™ have some of us traveling only via the internet and we are finding some pretty cool things available. Some of my favorite sites to explore are projects like the National Park Foundation’s Virtual Tours and the National Museum of Natural History’s Find me in the Butterfly Pavilion. Those are maybe slightly more exciting than bird watching from my window (but having a window has been really nice since it has proven rare in my career history). I may have gotten very excited about spotting a tufted titmouse and have an ongoing issue with a cardinal that likes to sing loudly right outside my window at 4:30AM. (Can you tell I may be missing my co-workers?)

While looking for things to do, remember that Digital Collections has been adding materials online for the past 15 years and it is very cool stuff! It encompasses all sorts of topics, from postcards to civil rights, to geography, woman’s history, politics and war. There is definitely something for everyone. I especially enjoy illustrations and natural history, so I went and searched for an interesting collection relating to that. The Ethelind Pope Brown Collection of South Carolina Natural History is one of the earliest works, outside of Mark Catesby’s Natural History, that illustrated South Carolina’s Natural History. While the artist is unknown, it is believed to be John Laurens (you can read more about this on the collection’s page). Many of the same species can be seen in both collections and comparing their interpretations has been a fun outlet for me. I’ve included two very similar birds below, one by Mark Catesby and the other from the Ethelind Pope Brown Collection.

Whether it is online or outside, make sure you get a dose of nature and let us know what you find!

Mark Catesby’s Northern Flicker
Mark Catesby’s Northern Flicker
Pope Brown’s Woodpecker
Pope Brown’s Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food, Glorious Food!

By Kendall Hallberg

Catesby’s “Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Isles” was created for an interested European audience. Many of the plants and animals of the New World were completely unknown to them as a three-month long trip didn’t make America very accessible. Catesby’s unique work was one of the first that pictured animals together with the plants that dominated their habitats. By virtue of this, there are quite a few well-loved and delicious foods alongside a few that you may not be familiar with.

Let’s start with a crowd favorite: Chocolate. By the time Catesby was creating these books (think early 1700s), chocolate had made its way into the hearts of Europeans. However, they still would not have known how this plant was cultivated. While Spanish and French colonies were producing chocolate, Catesby wanted to encourage cultivation of “this excellent tree” by the English (Catesby, 1731, p.6). While publishing his work on the Carolinas, Florida, and the Bahamas, he also collected accounts and made illustrations that he knew would be of interest.  This reasoning is why we also have the addition of Mexican Vanilla. While Mexican vanilla has since been introduced to regions in the United States and Territories, Catesby likely wouldn’t have come across it in his day. In fact, Catesby says, “With this fruit the Spaniards perfume their chocolate . . . This perfume is so little agreeable to an English palate, that it is rarely made use of any more in our American Plantations than at home, and therefore not cultivated by us” (Catesby, 1731). Can you imagine? Another plant that Catesby includes is the Cashew. It is included both as a curiosity as well as a correction upon the work of previous naturalists which illustrated the growth of the plant incorrectly. The inclusion of all three of these plants work to elucidate European audiences with what they may be familiar with, but misunderstandings of their nature still existed.

Catesby wasn’t just recording plants with popularity in Europe, he also exposed his audience to the many plants the New World had to offer; some more familiar to us than others. First, there is the Sweet Potato. Catesby’s descriptions of all the potatoes in America speaks to their general greatness. We, in South Carolina, are also very familiar with Persimmons as a common fruiting tree. Whether they are eaten fresh or dried, they are quite delicious as Catesby would attest. A bit less familiar is Yaupon. It’s in the holly family and can be brewed into tea though it has a rather unfortunate scientific name, Ilex vomitoria. This name links back to Yaupon’s traditional medicinal use by Indigenous people to detoxify, but the plant itself does not cause vomiting. It’s more like a relative, Yerba Mate, in flavor (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 2016). Last, but not least, the Pawpaw or sometimes called a custard-apple. Discovering this in Catesby’s work was my first time learning about this fruit. However, if I go by Catesby’s word, it might not be that delicious. He describes, “All Parts of the Tree have a rank, if not a [fetid] Smell; nor is the Fruit relished but by very few” (Catesby, 1731, p.85). There are plenty of other native plants that may or may not be delicious, but these are just a few. To discover more, join me next time as I explore other Natural Histories from our collections! (aka browsing the library in pajamas? Fun!)

 

References

  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (2016). Ilex vomitoria. Retrieved from: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ILVO
  • Catesby, M. (1731). The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: Containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants : particularly the forest-trees, shrubs, and other plants, not hitherto described, or very incorrectly figured by authors : together with their descriptions in English and French, to which, are added observations on the air, soil, and waters, with remarks upon agriculture, grain, pulse, roots, &c. : to the whole, is prefixed a new and correct map of the countries treated of. London: Printed at the expence of the author, and sold by W. Innys and R. Manby, at the West End of St. Paul’s, by Mr. Hauksbee, at the Royal Society House, and by the author, at Mr. Bacon’s in Hoxton.

A Peek at Mark Catesby’s Natural Histories

By Kendall Hallberg

Mark Catesby’s 1731 book “Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas” is the first published work to document the natural history of the southern and tropical regions. The illustrations and accompanying text detail life in these regions like no other naturalist had done before. You can see his influence in the work of others like James John Audubon. To learn more about these works and about Mark Catesby, you can check out the Catesby Centre. As the graduate student working on this project, I am scanning and working on the metadata for these volumes and prints.

Catesby’s Natural History spans two huge volumes. They are about 350 pages each. What makes them truly large is that they are printed on “Elephant Folios”, or extra-large sheets of paper, which makes it a bit of a challenge to scan. Here in Digital Collections, we use several different scanners, but for this project I have been using the Qidenus, our book scanner, a lot. Between maintenance checks and calibration, it can get a little out of whack from so much use. For example, recently I discovered a slight tilt in the glass frame, while not a detectable problem with a smaller volume, it is a much bigger deal when you are working with such large volumes. But I am nothing if not dedicated to getting it right. It just requires creativity and a lot of foam pieces, of which we have plenty. Below, a time lapse condenses about 25 minutes worth of set-up into a 30-second clip so you can see all the little adjustments it takes to capture the pages perfectly.

Above: Kendall setting up the Qidenus; view is horizontal.

At this point, I have scanned two sets of volumes and a collection of loose prints, however there is still quite a bit to do before this will be completed. After the Qidenus received needed maintenance, scanning has gone by quicker, but metadata will take some time. It is going to take a very collaborative effort with experts across campus to do this collection justice. I look forward to keeping everyone in the loop as we work out the nitty-gritty of metadata for a vast Natural History collection.

This project has been an invaluable opportunity to learn more about what it takes to digitize a rare book collection. It has also been a chance to learn more about the natural history of the area. When curiosity gets the better of me, I occasionally look up the birds and other animals to compare them to Catesby’s accounts. It’s really entertaining to see how the actual animals match up to their representations. Pretty soon, you’ll probably catch me bird watching on my hikes. I have included some of my favorite images from Catesby’s work below. I especially love the “Summer Red Bird” or summer tanager.

“Summer Red Bird” or Summer Tanager
“Summer Red Bird” or Summer Tanager
Southern Magnolia
Suillus, Great Hog-Fish
Suillus, Great Hog-Fish

Watch this space for more natural history and updates on the project!

Catesby’s Insight on Extinct and Endangered Animals

By Kendall Hallberg

Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahamas is an important resource for studying the animals and habitats living in these areas. Catesby’s works are some of the only remaining sources we have for many now rare and extinct animals. These historical records continue to be a valuable resource in discovering and protecting our biodiversity.

Over a hundred years ago, the Passenger Pigeon went from being the most numerous bird in America to complete extinction. Descriptions of these birds highlight the enormity of their numbers saying, “Throughout the 19th century, witnesses had described . . . sightings of pigeon migrations: how they took hours to pass over a single spot, darkening the firmament and rendering normal conversation inaudible” (Yeoman 2014). Catesby echoes this in saying that their numbers were so great “that in some places where they roost, which they do on one another’s backs, they often break down the limbs of Oaks with their weight, and leave their dung some inches thick under the trees they roost on” (Catesby, 1731, p.23). Sadly, these birds were hunted to extinction with the last one dying in captivity in 1914 (Yeoman, 2014).

Around the same time that the world lost the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet also became extinct. Carolina Parakeets were sighted and described by Catesby and much later by John James Audubon. While these birds were once numerous in many areas in North America, they are no longer. “What’s more, scientists don’t know what really drove these parakeets to extinction. Some thought it was habitat loss. Some thought it was hunting and trapping. Some thought disease.” (Burgio, 2018). Catesby cites that, “The orchards in autumn are visited by numerous flights of them; where they make great destruction for their kernels only”, which is a supporting argument for hunting and trapping due to damages as a means of extinction (Catseby, 1731, p.11). Interesting fact: both Martha, the last know Passenger Pigeon, and the last captive Carolina Parakeet were held by the Cincinnati Zoo.

Right click on image to see it full size.

Catesby’s descriptions can give us insight into the history of many unique animals. For example, not extinct, but categorized as endangered, is the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which has nearly disappeared since the time of Catesby’s works. Though there have not been any conclusive sightings of the woodpecker in 73 years, the species is still categorized as critically endangered (Donahue, 2017). Birds are not the only species recorded by Catesby to have found themselves in dire straits. He also included a few sea turtles in his works that are all now categorized as vulnerable or worse.  The Loggerhead, Green, and Hawksbill sea turtles are illustrated and described in Catesby’s Natural History. Hawksbill sea turtles in particular are critically endangered due to threats from habitat loss and illegal trade (NOAA Fisheries, n.d.). Catesby’s accounts of these creatures may hold valuable information about cultural practices and environmental causes for their decline.

While it is sad to learn about the demise of these species, it is also incredible that we have Catesby’s accounts to reference and learn about their significance. The animals mentioned above are not the only ones that Catesby identified that have become endangered, but just the few that I chose to focus on. Coming up, I plan to share more about the incredible (and sometimes rare) animals and plants captured in their environments by Catesby.

 

References

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