Wednesday, August 8, 2007

An update from the depths of the Academy of Natural Sciences archives

We've been surveying at the Academy for just over a week, and the work is humming right along. Because we're focusing on unprocessed materials in this project, we're not going through the collections of the most famous of the scientists and explorers represented in the archives (those have been processed). Still, it's been an interesting visit so far. We had the opportunity to talk to some of the collection curators about how they use the archives, and we were given a glimpse of the bird, fossil, and insect specimens at the Academy. (Three million bugs! Chills run up my spine just thinking of it!) We saw birds collected by John James Audubon (including Carolina Parakeets) and by John Gould (including Fairy Wrens).

As for the paper collections, they're not too bad either. We've just finished surveying a collection of papers by and about Edgar T. Wherry (1885-1982), who was a botanist and mineralogist. The papers at the Academy mostly deal with his extensive study of the phlox family, but we ran across an interesting PACSCL nexus:

  • Wherry took courses and later taught mineralogy at the Wagner Free Institute of Science;
  • a set of Wherry's hand-colored glass slides were reproduced and indexed by Marnie and Bill Flook;
  • the University of Delaware has a collection of miniature books donated by Marnie Flook, and we surveyed a set of documents related to Flook's microbibliomania;
  • an article about Wherry's slides was authored by the Flooks and published in Green Scene, a magazine published by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (of which Wherry was also a member)

There is such a broad range of institutions taking part in the PACSCL survey that it's surprising to see so many of them turn up in one collection. But as we progress through the survey, I'm finding that Philadelphia is smaller than it seems.

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