The Hancock Natural History Collection resides in Special Collections in the Doheny Memorial Library. Researchers in a wide variety of subject areas will find ample use of this visually appealing scientific collection. One of the richest natural history collections west of the Mississippi, the Hancock Collection covers a broad spectrum of scientific research, including botany, geology, microscopy, evolution, voyages and explorations, zoology, and bacteriology. Lavishly illustrated books, important scientific works and rare journals from past centuries abound.
The Hancock Natural History Collection was purchased in 1944 by Captain G. Allan Hancock from the Boston Society of Natural History. Begun in 1830, the Library of The Society was one of the earliest established collections in the areas of natural history in the United States. This Library, comprising some 74,000 books, pamphlets, and serials, formed the foundation of the Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography, which was housed on the second floor of the Hancock Foundation Building from 1941 until 2004. What follows is a sample of the works in this collection, based on the 1992 exhibit held in the Doheny Memorial Library at the University of Southern California.
VOYAGES AND EXPLORATION
Though the Library currently collects works that describe the scientific discoveries of oceanographic expeditions and Antarctic exploration, many earlier works focus on travels to such faraway places as Greenland, India and South Africa. Among them is Voyage to North America by Pierre de Charlevoix in which he describes the native peoples and unknown lands he encountered.
Initially, many geological works focused on locating and identifying gems and minerals. Yet even as early as 1565, naturalists such as Konrad Gesner described fossils and speculated on their age and the animals and plants from which they were formed. In the first half of the nineteenth century, scientists such as Alexander von Humboldt, Georges Cuvier, and Louis Figuier made the quantum leap from observation to extrapolation with their explanations of rock formations and the origin of the earth.
EVOLUTION AND NATURAL SELECTION
By far the most influential work on evolutionary theory is Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection , first published in 1859. Contrary to popular belief, this work did not propose the theory that man evolved from the ape; in fact, T. H. Huxley, a strong proponent of Darwin's work, was the first person to scientifically examine man's resemblance to apes in Evidences as to Man's Place in Nature of 1863. It is not until his 1871 publication, Descent of Man, that Darwin applied his theory to man. In response to the bitter attacks on his work Darwin declared, "I would rather be regarded as a descendant of a monkey than of some people that might be named."
Cultivating plants for food and identifying their medicinal uses were two of man's earliest activities. Initially information was recorded by hand, but with the advent of printing, multiple copies of these valuable books, called herbals, were widely distributed. One such work was Macer Floridus' De Herbarum Virtutibus Aemilii Macri , a sixteenth century edition of a twelfth century text. Among works depicting flora in the "new world" is Mark Catesby's The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, which contains wonderful color illustrations. No less valuable are less opulent works, such as Eugen Esper's Icones Fucorum which today attract marine scientists from around the world to USC.
The Hancock Collection is particularly rich in works depicting animals, including John James Audubon's most famous work Birds of America. Another important bird illustrator of the early nineteenth century was Thomas Bewick, who reintroduced the art of wood engraving. His skill was such that he could depict animals in great detail within just a few square inches.
MICROSCOPY AND PHYSIOLOGY
Scientists such as Robert Hooke, Martin Ledermüller, and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek shifted scientific research away from descriptions of animals visible with the naked eye. Using a microscope, Van Leeuwenhoek was the first to see bacteria and accurately describe red blood corpuscles. Robert Hooke, a multifaceted experimenter in the fields of chemistry, meteorology, and physics, turned his talents to microscopy and became the first person to describe the cells in plant tissues, the crystal structure of snowflakes, and the compound eye of a fly. Many scientists of the nineteenth century, such as T. H. Huxley, Karl Gustav Carus, and Louis Agassiz turned their attention to the anatomical differences and similarities of man and animals.
PHARMACOLOGY AND BACTERIOLOGY
Garcia de Orta's Dell' Historia deI Semplici Aromati discusses the medicinal qualities of herbs and plants, including the tobacco. In contrast, Matthieu Orfila's early nineteenth century work Traité des Poisons focuses on the harmful properties of various plants and minerals. Best known for developing vaccines against diseases, Louis Pasteur also identified the bacteria causing the disease that threatened to decimate the French silk industry.
The works depicted in this exhibit reside in Special Collections in the Doheny Memorial Library. These and other works may be consulted by contacting Melinda K. Hayes, Natural History Librarian in Special Collections at USC.