Friday, July 31, 2009

Digitizing Engelmann's Herbarium

The Missouri Botanical Garden has been awarded a 2009 Museums for America Collections Stewardship grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for its project "Digitizing Engelmann's Legacy: Providing Web Access To Plant Specimens Documenting the Great American Frontier." The project will run from 1 November 2009 through 31 October 2010, and is online at

About the project

The Missouri Botanical Garden has identified the digitization and online public display of the George Engelmann Herbarium of plant specimens as a priority collection stewardship activity. The approximately 8,000 specimens gathered during pioneering expeditions into the native American West following those of Lewis and Clark are the first scientific record of the plants growing in the vast wilderness west of the Mississippi River. As such, they form the earliest verifiable documentation of species occurrences before the rapid migration west permanently altered that pristine landscape through human alterations and the introduction of invasive species. These specimens will provide an historic complement to the 3.6 million specimens already databased and accessible through Tropicos, MBG’s botanical information system.

This project is 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 will be databased and barcoded by Herbarium Assistants, making their scientific data available for query and analysis through the Tropicos web site at The approximately 900 type specimens within the Engelmann Herbarium will be 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 will select more than 100 volumes of botanical literature generated from these expeditions for scanning. Using well-established procedures and existing equipment, Imaging Technicians will digitize the selected reports and references, and will publish them using existing workflow via the Botanicus web site at Tropicos will be 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 can be used to provide enhanced query interfaces into these historic collections. Programming is required to integrate these components into the core Tropicos system, enabling rich map-based visualization and analysis.

Project activities will be managed by an existing team comprised of staff from the MBG Herbarium, Library, and Bioinformatics Departments. Project activities have been scheduled for a duration of one year, starting November 1, 2009. Upon completion, MBG will have 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 will be of use to a wide audience of scientists, students, and the general public, and will help inform users of the historic distributions of species throughout the native American landscape.

Contact: Dr. Robert Magill

Senior Vice President for Research


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