Special Collections holds a formidable array of rare natural history books, due to the E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection. This collection ranges from the sixteenth century to the present. This rich collection touches nearly every facet of natural history, with a special concentration on 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
The most valuable treasure of the McIlhenny Collection is, without doubt, the complete double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America (image to the left). 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.
Early Foundations of Natural History
The collections feature a significant number of 16th- and 17th-century volumes, which laid a foundation for the 18th-century explosion of interest in natural history. Below is a sampling of these early philosophical and scientific works.
By the end of the 17th century, interest in systems of scientific classification for plants and animals was on the rise. In the eighteenth century, Buffon and Linnaeus devoted themselves to immense projects of classification which had an enduring impact on the field.
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--such as those listed below--that represent historic moments in our understanding of botany.
Other 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.
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.