Natural History Manuscripts at George Peabody Library
The books and works of 10 of history's great naturalists are on display at the George Peabody Library, 17 East Mount Vernon Place, from now through July 20. The manuscripts are among the treasures of the natural history collections in the Sheridan Libraries at The Johns Hopkins University. To accompany the exhibit, a Digital Natural History Exhibit is available on the World Wide Web. This Web site includes the same illustrations as the physical exhibit and can be found at http://naturalhistory.mse.jhu.edu.
Although these 10 authors shared in common an intellectual curiosity for the natural world and a desire to communicate their observations, each were very different in their interests, backgrounds and styles of working. Robert Hooke (1655-1703) was a restless researcher who moved from one project to another. The striking illustrations in his Micrographia of magnified leaves, stones, and insects came from his study of life under the microscope. Abraham Trembley (1710-1784) became aware of hydra almost by accident, then concentrated on studying them as thoroughly and detailed as possible in his groundbreaking work. Carl von Linné, or Linnaeus (1707-1778), had the same need for organization and applied it to creating a classification system of all three kingdoms of nature.
Trembley, Hooke and the horticulturist William Curtis (1746-1799) made their careers close to home, studying things which others did not notice or considered ordinary, while Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Mark Catesby (1679?-1749), and Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) traveled afar to study plants, animals and geology unknown in Europe. Humboldt's six-year journey in Central and South America has been called the "scientific discovery of America."
John Gould (1804-1881), the son of a gardener at Windsor Castle, was a taxidermist for the Zoological Society of London who taught himself to be an ornithologist. Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803-1857), Napoleon's nephew, had a university education before becoming an outstanding zoologist. He depended on professional artists to illustrate his books, as all the naturalists in this exhibit did, with the exception of Merian, Catesby and Audubon (1785-1851), who were each artists in their own right.
The illustrations are engravings, most colored by hand in the earliest books, and lithographs in those by Audubon and Gould. To protect them from the light levels in the Peabody Library, pages will be turned periodically during the run of the exhibit.
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