Native Fruit: The Wild Blueberry

My favorite chronicler of natural and cultural histories in early America is Englishman John Josselyn. He was a curious and good-humored observer of the 17th-century inhabitants of northern New England, both indigenous and colonists, and their ways. Josselyn was particularly interested in local, medicinal uses of plants. Of what he referred to as “bill berries,” Europe’s closest relative to the blueberries, he reported that the fruit is used “To cool the heat more »

If Books Could Kill: A Deadly Secret in the Cullman Library

The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History’s 1602 edition of Ulisse Aldrovandi’s De animalibus insectis has always been a favorite of mine, and the rest of our special collections staff. Aside from being the first European work dedicated solely to the natural history of insects and featuring numerous incredible woodcut illustrations, it also retains its beautiful contemporary binding. But this binding is just as dangerous as it is lovely: the more »

An Imaginative World found in a Shell Book

  As a commemoration of the Imperial collection of shells in Vienna, the printed folio of Testacea Musei Caesarei Vindobonensis of 1780, is splendid. The eighteen engraved plates, carefully colored by hand, render individual specimens in the Habsburgs’ K.K. Hof-naturalien-Cabinet as if pieces of jewelry, casting shadows on a plain background of the thick, hand-made paper. Dedicated to the Empress of Austria, Maria Theresa (1717-1780), this production was also a work of more »

An Illustrated Natural History of German Frogs: Rösel’s Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nostratium

This post first appeared on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog.   Historia naturalis ranarum nostratium has been described as one of the most beautiful works devoted to frogs and amphibians. The work of German artist and naturalist August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof, Historia naturalis ranarum nostratium describes the natural history of all then-known frogs and toads indigenous to the Nuremberg region in Germany. The title is noteworthy first for the extensive, accurate information more »

The Fix: Conservation of Les Lépidoptères de la Belgique

This post was written by Ludivine Javelaud, intern in the Book Conservation Lab. I am currently a conservation graduate student at the Institut National du Patrimoine in Paris and I have been accepted to complete part of my 4th year internship requirement in the Book Conservation Lab in the Preservation Department at the Smithsonian Libraries.     One of the projects I am involved with is the conservation of a collection of more »

Women’s Work in the Early Book Trade

In 16th-century Spain, manuals detailing the finer points of sailing and navigation were printed. It was the Age of Discovery and the country was establishing lucrative trade routes across the seas while expanding their colonial empire. Other nations were keen to tap into the Spaniards’ great expertise found in this literature, as there was little maritime information published elsewhere. Books were a means of developing knowledge of geography and voyaging to be more »

Elizabeth Gould: An Accomplished Woman

Author’s note: Elizabeth Gould was a 19th century artist responsible for some of the most historically significant images of birds ever published. She was also a devoted wife and mother. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile both of these aspects of her life through our modern lens of 21st century social issues and feminism; it can be tempting to paint her story as that of a woman repressed by antiquated gender roles, more »

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