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Together again: plant specimens and journals of 19th-century botanist Henry William Ravenel

 

A young Ravenel

Two hundred and two years after the May 1814 birth of Henry William Ravenel, a 19th-century South Carolina planter and botanist, a team from North Carolina and South Carolina colleges and universities has made his life’s work available online.

Salvia, as seen in Ravenel's journals

Plants and Planter: Henry William Ravenel and the Convergence of Science and Agriculture in the Nineteenth Century South digitally reunites 6,200 botanical specimens Ravenel collected and more than 3,000 pages of his manuscripts, including thirteen journals spanning 1859-1887 and 400 letters, along with his personal photo album, all of which are currently housed at multiple higher education institutions.

Plants and Planter is the result of a two-year collaborative effort by librarians, archivists, botanists, curators, conservators, imaging specialists, web developers and GIS specialists from the University of South Carolina, Converse College, Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. USC departments including the A.C. Moore Herbarium, the Center for Digital Humanities, University Libraries Digital Collections and the South Caroliniana Library have been involved in the project from its inception to the site launch in May 2016. Plants and Planter was funded through an $84,870 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Henry William Ravenel was born in Pineville, South Carolina in present-day Berkeley County. He studied at South Carolina College (now USC) from 1829 to 1832. After graduation he returned to the Lowcountry and became a planter who encouraged crop experimentation, soil analysis, and the examination of native botany, scientific analysis and publication of findings to promote new approaches to southern agriculture. Ravenel developed a keen interest in botany — mycology (the study of fungi), in particular.

Ravenel's five-volume sets of dried fungal specimens he collected, Fungi Caroliniani Exsiccati (1853-1860) and his contributions to the eight-volume series Fungi Americani Exsiccati (London, 1878-1882) with English botanist M.C. Cooke, were widely distributed on a subscription basis. The prominence of these publications established him as the leading authority in the world on American fungi and a contributor to botanical knowledge.

Plants and Planter can be accessed at http://ravenel.cdh.sc.edu.

For more information, contact Kate Boyd, Digital Initiatives Coordinator at the University of South Carolina Libraries and Program Director for the South Carolina Digital Library, at 803-777-2249 or boydkf@mailbox.sc.edu.