Skip to Main Content

Rare Books

Natural History


Special Collections holds a formidable array of rare natural history books, due to the E. A. McIlhenny Natural History CollectionThis rich collection, ranging from the sixteenth century to the present, touches nearly every facet of natural history, with a special concentration on ornithological and botanical works. Explore the tabs for some representative items in each major area, or read below for a particularly special holding.

Audubon's Birds of America

A strength of the McIlhenny Collection is ornithological illustration, or "bird books," including notable works like John Gould's Hummingbirds and Edward Lear's Parrots (below; right image)The most valuable treasure of the McIlhenny Collection is, without doubt, the complete double elephant folio edition oJohn James Audubon's Birds of America (left image). Special Collections also holds the first octavo edition of Birds, along with original drawings and manuscripts in Audubon's hand. 

For a comprehensive guide to John James Audubon, covering LSU Libraries holdings as well as external resources, see Audubon in LSU Libraries. For details and images, see the 2021 online exhibition Audubon in Louisiana.  

See the 2012 online exhibition Aves: A Survey of the Literature of Neotropical Ornithology for a more complete list of Special Collections' ornithological works.

Audubon, Barred Owl

Early Foundations of Natural History

The important volumes below laid a foundation for an explosion of interest in scientific classification for plants and animals. Building on these works, in the eighteenth century, Buffon and Linnaeus devoted themselves to immense classification projects which had an enduring impact on the field.

Botanical Illustration

The collections feature countless beautiful works of plant-related artwork, from early illustrated herbals to contemporary botanical illustration. An herbal is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a book containing the names and descriptions of herbs or of plants in general, with their properties and virtues. Though utilitarian in purpose, herbals are often noted for the beauty of their illustrations, and thus many are included in the McIlhenny Collection. After the early modern era, botanical illustration emerged out of this herbal tradition. A collection highlight is the twentieth-century work of talented botanical illustrator Margaret Stones documenting the flora of Louisiana (pictured below). The following list offers a few special examples of the diversity within this category.


Other Botanical Works

Special Collections also holds a number of works that represent historic moments in our understanding of botany.

Zoological Works

While ornithology is a major focus, many volumes in other areas of zoology are also available.  Of particular note is Louis Renard's colorful, whimsical, and valuable work Poissons, Ecrivisses, et Crabes.

                           A gift from Dr. James “Jim” Bishop: Part I | LSU Libraries News & Notes


Special Collections holds seminal works in the history of geological studies, from Hutton to Agassiz.  Many of these volumes feature illustrated plates with geological sketches and maps.


Charles Darwin & His Contemporaries

A rare first edition of Darwin's Descent of Man is a highlight of the nineteenth-century natural history collections.  Darwin's works can be viewed alongside works by Lamarck, Spencer, and other scientists who influenced the development of evolutionary theory. 

Provide Website Feedback
Accessibility Statement