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Digitizing Engelmann's Legacy:

Providing Web Access To Plant Specimens Documenting the Great American Frontier

The first step taken toward placing the Engelmann Herbarium online began in 2010 with the Digitizing Engelmann's Legacy project. The Institute for Museum and Library Services awarded $146,600 for the purposes of digitizing and mapping Engelmann's specimens. In the hope of making as big of an impact as possible with the funds available, the project team focused their efforts on 8,000 specimens collected on Engelmann's behalf in the 1840s and 50s during the exploration of the American Southwest before Westward migration significantly altered the landscape. The project also digitized more than 100 volumes of published works resulting from this exploration and integrated new spatial analysis tools into Tropicos for advanced visualization of specimen collections.

Digitizing Engelmann's Legacy was structured to accomplish three primary goals:

Goal 1: Provide web-based search and query access to the Engelmann Herbarium via Tropicos.   The 8,000 historic specimens in the Engelmann Herbarium documenting America’s westward expansion were databased and barcoded by Herbarium Assistants, making their scientific data available for query and analysis through the Tropicos web site at www.tropicos.org.  The approximately 900 type specimens within the Engelmann Herbarium were scanned and published alongside their transcribed scientific data.

Goal 2: Digitize field literature and published reports associated with collecting expeditions in the American West. MBG Library staff selected more than 100 volumes of botanical literature generated from these expeditions for scanning.  Using well-established procedures and existing equipment, Imaging Technicians digitized the selected reports and references, and published them using existing workflow via the Botanicus web site at www.botanicus.org.  Tropicos was updated to include links to the Botanicus materials, enabling a cross reference between historic museum collections and the public domain literature describing the artifacts within taxonomic publications.

Goal 3: Provide web interfaces for geospatial analysis and data modeling into the Engelmann Herbarium and Tropicos.  New geospatial software developed by academic institutions and commercial software companies such as ESRI provided enhanced query interfaces the historic collections.  Programming was required to integrate these components into the core Tropicos system, enabling rich map-based visualization and analysis for the Engelmann Herbarium and for Tropicos overall.

Project activities were managed by an existing team comprised of staff from the MBG Herbarium, Peter H. Raven Library, and the Center for Biodiversity Informatics.  Upon completion, MBG provided online public access to a collection of previously unavailable historic specimens and public domain library references, and provided novel analytical interfaces into these datasets.  These products are of use to a wide audience of scientists, students, and the general public, and help inform users of the historic distributions of species throughout the native American landscape.

To identify relevant materials, the project prioritized the specimens, correspondence, and literature of selected collectors and plant families. These included August Fendler (ex. Pectis papposa, Arabis patula), John Frémont, Charles Geyer (Nicollet expeditions), Josiah Gregg (manuscript field book from the archives), Ferdinand Lindheimer, Friedrich Wislizenus (ex. Heuchera sanguinea, Agave wislizenii), and the members of the U.S.and Mexican Boundary Survey (John M. Bigelow, William Emory, Charles Christopher Parry, Arthur Schott, George Thurber, and Charles Wright).

Click here to open an interactive map.

Click on the map above to see a sample of the sorts of spatial visualizations created by the project. The map allows you to see where three of Engelmann's collectors gathered their specimens. Friedrich Wislizenus did some traveling in the West but spent much of his adult life with Engelmann in St. Louis where they operated a small medical practice together as partners. Ferdinand Lindheimer and Engelmann were connected through associations in Frankfurt, and when Lindheimer settled in Texas he collected plants for Engelmann and Asa Gray. Josiah Gregg traveled with Wislizenus and on his own deeper into the Southwest and Mexico. Although the map does not show every specimen these three men collected, due to others still being unscanned or poorly described with geographic coordinates, it does show the wide range of areas covered by just a few of the people in Engelmann's network.

Use the links along the left to explore the site and find specimens or literature digitized as part of this project.

This project was sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and ESRI.

 
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