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Abstract Detail


Brown, Herrick [1], Boyd, Kate [2], Knox, John [3].

A Hay-Maker’s Hardships: Mending the Fragmented Collections of a 19th-Century Southern Botanist through Collaborative Digitization.

During his time, Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887) was not only a prominent botanist, but perhaps the premier mycologist in North America. An ardent student of botany and an indefatigable field collector, through the labors of his lifetime Ravenel amassed a collection of 10 to 12 thousand species. His pursuit of plants was fueled by his “love to follow them in their haunts, in the deep forests watch their development, and then to study their ‘ways’,” and this led him to endure the harsh summer climate of the southern fields and forests while slogging through the malarial swamps of the Santee region. His vascular plant collections contain several species not since observed in South Carolina, and some of his mycological specimens formed the nucleus of what is now the National Fungus Collection. Despite his efforts to keep his collection intact (which he managed to do through the Civil War), it was fragmented posthumously. First purchased by a distant relative to be used as a teaching instrument for the foundling women’s college (Converse) in Spartanburg, SC, portions of the collection were soon sold by the administration in an effort to alleviate financial strains to the British Museum and then to Biltmore Estate. The remaining portion found safe harbor during the early 20th century under the vigilant management of Elizabeth Williams, a biology professor. Numerous annotations from this era are evident throughout the collection. After a long period of dormancy, the collection was eventually transferred to the A. C. Moore Herbarium (USCH) at the University of South Carolina where it has been restored and digitized. Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported a collaborative project to rejoin Ravenel’s herbarium specimens and his handwritten journals held in the South Caroliniana Library. Other archival materials, including letters and photographs, were included from collections at Clemson University, Converse College, the University of North Carolina, and USC. Digital collections staff at USC hand-checked OCR from typescripts and developed metadata with special attention toward matching Dublin Core fields to Darwin Core fields used for herbarium records. Programmers from the Center for Digital Humanities developed a website that allows visitors to search three separate databases (2 CONTENTdm, 1 Symbiota) with apparent seamless operation. Search and Browse features return results from Journals, Letters, Specimens, and Photographs. The Plants & Planter website ( debuted on May 19, 2016 and includes maps of travel and correspondence among other interpretive features.

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Related Links:
Plants and Planter: Henry William Ravenel and the Convergence of Science and Agriculture in the Nineteenth-Century South

1 - A. C. Moore Herbarium (USCH), Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, 29208, USA
2 - Digital Collections, University Libraries, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, 29208, USA
3 - Center for Digital Humanities, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, 29208, USA

Henry William Ravenel
Archival Materials
Collaborative Digitization

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Session: 34, Historical Section Contributed Papers
Location: 200/Savannah International Trade and Convention Center
Date: Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
Time: 4:30 PM
Number: 34004
Abstract ID:747
Candidate for Awards:Emanuel D. Rudolph Award

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