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2 Posts tagged with the library tag

St Valentine's day is better known for sentiment, but in addition to the death of the eponymous saint, Captain James Cook died in Hawai'i in on the morning of 14 January 1779 during the voyage of the Resolution.  The Museum has strong connections with Cook and his collaborators, with a tremendous legacy of collections, drawings, art and other records.


In particular, Sir Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander and Sidney Parkinson all travelled with Cook on his earlier voyage on the EndeavourPlant collections from this voyage and others originating from Banks are held in the Museum's Botany department collections. Illustrations from the Library are described on the Endeavour botanical illustrations pages.  More of the Museum's resources are available on ArtStor, but this is currently only available via some academic institutions. Further images can be found on the NHM picture library by searching for "Endeavour" or "Resolution".



Barringtonia calyptrata


Cook is particularly well known for his supreme skill in navigation and naval mapping. In the words of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography "In his three voyages to the Pacific, Cook disproved the existence of a  great southern continent, completed the outlines of Australia and New  Zealand, charted the Society Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia,  and the Hawaiian Islands, and depicted accurately for the first time the  north-west coast of America, leaving no major discoveries for his  successors. In addition the scientific discoveries in the fields of  natural history and ethnology were considerable and the drawings made by  the artists were of great significance."


In other words, he transformed the 18th Century European view of the Pacific.  He was also recognised for his acheivements in practical health care, developing new ways of preventing the disease scurvy, caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.


Alfred Russel Wallace stands with Charles Darwin as an influential and innovative thinker on evolution.  Before the publication of Darwin's great work The Origin of Species in 1859, Wallace and Darwin were jointly credited with developing the key idea of natural selection, presented in a paper from them both to the Linnean Society in 1858.

Wallace's ideas had their foundations in his collecting experience in natural history: first in South America; and second in what is now Malaysia and Indonesia.  In particular, he was interested in the geographical distribution of species and how this related to evolution: what is now thought of as biogeography.



The Museum has just purchased an album of sketches, watercolours and photographs belonging to Wallace from his family.  This is being added to a large collection in the NHM of Alfred Russel Wallace material: letters, notes, drawings and other papers. The collection is the second largest single depository of letter to and from Wallace, the British Library having the largest. The majority of the collection held in the NHM Library was purchased in 2002 from the Wallace family. Since then the family has presented to the Museum additional material, including more letters, papers and a few legal documents.


A project is now being led by George Beccaloni and Judith Magee to digitise all letters - not just the NHM collection - and make them available on-line with funding from the Mellon Foundation. The project employs one full time archivist and started in October 2010 to run for three years, culminating in 2013, the centenary of Wallace's death, and will be an important resource for historians of science.