Meet the Library Arts and Archives Digitisation Team and find out what they do.
Hello! I lead the team responsible for digitisation of the Directors' Correspondence (DC) archive in the LAA, one of the largest collections within Kew's official Archives. There are four of us in the team: Lindsay, myself, Ginny and Kat.
Our work is funded by the Mellon foundation, and our job entails scanning and summarising letters sent to the Directors of Kew from the 1840s to the 1920s. The electronic data we produce is published on the web, opening up this archive to a wider audience.
Described as above, our job might seem a bit dry and not necessarily something you'd drag yourself out of bed for in the morning. Not so! Hand on heart, I love my job! For anyone like myself who has an interest in history and in the natural sciences, the DC is an amazing archive and almost every day we are entertained by weird and wonderful characters and accounts of their travels and discoveries.
As one might expect in such an archive, there are a lot of letters that describe the mundane, but these are interspersed with tales of death, destruction, political unrest and scientific discovery with a sprinkling of some good, old fashioned gossip!
We'd like to use this blog to share some of the highlights of the DC collection. Every month, we'll feature a letter, or series of letters, that has caught our attention. We'll also keep you up to date with how the team is progressing. We are currently nearing the end of the first phase of our work: to digitise the correspondence from, or relating to, Latin America. By March 2010 we hope to begin digitising the DC from Asia.
I do hope you'll follow our blog!
Hostmann and his Bats
To give you a taste of what you can expect from us, I'll leave you with an extract of a letter written in 1841 by the botanist Friedrich Wilhelm Rudolf Hostmann to Sir William Jackson Hooker, Director of Kew from 1841 - 1865. In this very long (16 page!) letter, Hostmann provides a vivid description of an expedition initiated in March 1840 to collect plant specimens in the interior of Suriname. He needed several servants and 15 canoes to transport his equipment and collections through flooded forests. Along with details of his leaking tent, hunting trips, the hospitality of the Gallina tribe and sightings of dangerous snakes, the letter contains a passage detailing how he allowed vampire bats to drink his own blood:
"Led by instinct they [the bats] choose a remote part of the body where there is less chance to be caught. I offered them my feet uncovered, and soon had the pleasure to see one occupied with each of my great toes; I hardly could feel when, under continued fibrations [sic], which the animal made with the wings the wound was inflicted; a few minutes afterwards they both seemed to have their competent portion and dropped at the ground; to my great astonishment I found the wound pretty considerable and of a triangular form".
For the record, despite his somewhat unorthodox approach to scientific experiment, Mr Hostmann lived for another 22 years!
- If you wish to access the DC, please contact the Archives: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- JSTOR subscribers can view the DC from Africa and Latin America on the GPI website.
- Helen -
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