Edward Dickinson – Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the bibliographic gaps in the historical legacy

Event Date: 28 October 2011
Flett Lecture Theatre
Natural History Museum


Anchoring Biodiversity Information:

From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond

Edward Dickinson
Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the bibliographic gaps in the historical legacy

Editor, Zoological Bibliography, Aves Press, BN20 7JG Eastbourne, UK
Email: info@avespress.com; edward@asiaorn.org

Ornithological nomenclature is based on the bibliographic legacy from Charles Davies Sherborn, working in the Natural History Museum, London, and from Charles Wallace Richmond, working at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Despite their significant foundations, a complete data series has not yet been achieved. Gaps in their original coverage, though few, have not been resolved. The post-1850, the end date of coverage of the Index Animalium the level of completeness declines. I will discuss the coverage of the gaps in ornithology and address the primary issues of completeness and accuracy.

Avian names in the Index Animalium have issues of accuracy in spellings, authorship and citation details. Most of the problems that can be pinpointed in ornithology will be paralleled in other zoological disciplines. Post-1850, ornithology is fortunate in the correspondence between Sherborn and Richmond. The Richmond Index to the Genera and Species of Birds, published on microfiche in 1992 and now available online, is founded on their collaboration. After Richmond, successive members of the Department of Birds at the United States National Museum were inspired and encouraged to update the resource regularly. Over the years since 1932 when Richmond died there were periods when this card index was well maintained and others when less time was devoted to it. In addition, the information available to ensure it was comprehensive is likely to have been only marginally better in respect of the Americas than was available to the Zoological Record. There has been more deliberate work done to maximise the collection of avian generic names. The initial sustaining role played by the Zoological Society of London must be recognised as regards both the Zoological Record and the Nomenclator Zoologicus of Neave. Unfortunately, ornithologists have undervalued the importance of the bedrock of information that these initiatives provide and hence they have done little or nothing collectively to maintain and complete these resources.

The rare Book Room at the NHM holds what may be all Sherborn’s Index Animalium slips. They are appropriately separated, but old explanatory separators written by Sherborn are fading and the original sequences within the segments look disturbed. These need study and potentially reorganisation. For their long term preservation and wider availability scanning is recommended (after any agreed reorganisation), It is hoped that the museum, whose Trustees were publishers of the 33 volumes that cover 1801-1850, will assess the situation and if necessary seek to raise funding for these measures. Other Sherborn material should perhaps be brought together with the slip cabinet so that all material relating to the Index Animalium is together or fully cross-referenced. At the Smithsonian, the Department of Birds holds two card indexes which Richmond created to support his primary card index. These are being preserved and are accessible on site. The Richmond card index is now online under development at http://www.zoonomen.net/cit/RI/Genera/RIGen.html.

Finally, there are registers of timed periodical receipts and of exchanges involving the Smithsonian International Exchange program. Mining such information could well resolve long-standing disputes over precedence. Finally, zoological bibliographers should work with the global antiquarian book trade to develop a digital collection illustrating the wrappers of the many early part-works where these contain dates, original spellings or other vital information.








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