The George Engelmann Correspondence Project
Putting Engelmann's personal papers on the Biodiversity Heritage Library
In May of 2013, the Peter H. Raven Library and the archives of the Missouri Botanical Garden received a grant from the Missouri State Library to digitize George Engelmann's personal papers. The previous project, Digitizing Engelmann's Legacy, selected for digitization specific botanical notebooks and personal letters related to the exploration of the American Southwest in the 1840s. These selections represented only a small fraction of the archival collection assembled over the course of Engelmann's long and diverse career. The new grant allowed the library staff to put the entirety of Engelmann's personal correspondence onto Botanicus and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. By uploading all documents of one type rather than around a central topic, the correspondence project has revealed a much broader perspective on Engelmann's life.
The collection contains more than 5,000 letters from nearly 600 of Engelmann's correspondents between the early 1830s and his death in 1884. The letters are in English, French, and German, and they cover a wide range of relationships. There are brief encounters with clerks and amateur botanists, professional specimen exchanges, specialized conversations around publications, and life-long friendships. Circles of friends formed in frequently visited cities like Paris and Berlin and around common projects like the study of Iseotes or the overseas schooling of Engelmann's son George Julius.
The project has been pursued in conversation with similar correspondence collections and projects around the world, and hopefully groundwork has been laid towards future collaboration. A large network of naturalists wrote the letters that became Engelmann's correspondence collection, and these documents are tied to similar collections in other archives. A master list of where to find Engelmann's outgoing letters is not yet complete, but some work has been done to visualize how these collections fit together.
A major achievement of the project is the updating of the finding aid to the Engelmann papers, which for decades has existed in the archives of the Missouri Botanical Garden as a unique bound book of typewriter-generated pages. Correcting old mistakes and converting the finding aid to the digital age, the project team has created a new home for the collection online as a collection landing page on the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This has allowed the old blue book to be retired, for a larger audience to peruse the collection's contents, and for those collections to be hyperlinked to digital objects.
Digitization of this collection is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the Missouri State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State.