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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

That’s Distinctive!: Lewis Lindsay Dyche’s Panorama

June 2nd, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! we share some photos from the KU Natural History Museum’s collection within University Archives. In the library we house many photographs from the museum from throughout their years as well as some of their records. The photos we share this week show early displays of the museum’s panorama from 1893. From the museum’s website:

“The Panorama is an American cultural treasure, a 360-degree-view exhibit that embodies a historic first in the representation of nature for the public. As part of the official Kansas Pavilion in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, it was unique and revolutionary in depicting, for the first time, mounted groups of North American mammals in their natural surroundings. Lewis Lindsay Dyche created this exhibit on the cusp of growing scientific awareness of ecological systems and the need to conserve natural resources for the better good…the exhibit has grown over the years to include more different environs and species. The Panorama represents the university’s early efforts to document and understand the life of the planet — research that continues today through the KU Biodiversity Institute.”

Sepia-toned photographs of two large animals, probably moose, locking antlers.
Sepia-toned photograph of two large animals (probably moose) locking antlers with a variety of smaller animals in the background.
Sepia-toned photograph of many animals, large and small, in a lightly-wooded environment with a tall rock feature in the background.
Sepia-toned photograph of the entire diorama, taken from across a hallway.
Views of the panorama created by Lewis Lindsay Dyche, 1893. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 33/0 1893: Museum of Natural History (Photos). Click images to enlarge.

More on the history of the panorama and other exhibits can be found on the Natural History Museum’s website. Spencer Research Library also houses material on Lewis Lindsay Dyche, including his personal papers.

What made me choose the museum for this week? Well, I am a science lover by nature being an Anthropology major. But, the museum is also a great community resource. Not only for learning cool things, but for bonding and making memories.

The KU Natural History Museum offers four floors of exhibits for visitors of all kinds. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday-Sunday for the summer, with suggested donations upon entrance. The museum also offers “Museum from Home” options for those who are unable to visit.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

The Art of Nature

July 31st, 2018

Just how heavy is an African elephant? What insects hang out together on milkweed plants? Satisfy your curiosity by visiting Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s summer 2018 exhibition before it closes on August 30.

Image of the T-Shirt Design by D.D. Tyler, "One African Elephant Is as Heavy as…" Milkweed Village T-Shirt design by D. D. Tyler

D.D. Tyler. “One African Elephant Is as Heavy as…” t-shirt and
“Milkweed Village” t-shirt. D. D. Tyler Collection.
Call Number: MS QA 22, Box 4. Click images to enlarge.

The pictorial T-shirts displayed in “The Art of Nature: Natural History Art and Illustrations by D.D. Tyler” answer such questions in the nicest possible way. These beautiful T-shirts selected from nearly 200 designed by natural-history artist D.D. (Diana Dee) Tyler charm the eye while they stimulate the mind. The same is true of her natural-history illustrations for periodicals, guidebooks, and children’s books.

Color drawing by D. D. Tyler of Mother Bear and Cubs for book Bears in the Wild by Ada and Frank Graham, 1981
D.D. Tyler. Mother Bear and Cubs. Color drawing for book
Bears in the Wild by Ada and Frank Graham, 1981.
Addition to the D. D. Tyler Collection received 12/17/2017. Click image to enlarge.

The detailed and scientifically accurate pen-and-ink drawings breathe life into each book author’s written descriptions of animals and their lives. In the exhibition, her impressive original drawings, never meant to be seen, can be compared with the published versions reduced photographically to half-size.

Ink and crayon drawing by D. D. Tyler of a Mother Squirrel Carrying Baby Squirrel for the book We Watch Squirrels by Ada and Frank Graham, 1985

D.D. Tyler. Mother Squirrel Carrying Baby Squirrel. Ink and crayon drawing
for book We Watch Squirrels by Ada and Frank Graham, 1985.
D. D. Tyler Collection. Call Number: MS QA 22, Box 1, Folder 30. Click image to enlarge.

A native Kansan, D.D. Tyler completed a Fine Arts degree at the University of Kansas in 1970. After backpacking around the world, she settled in Maine, where her career as an artist developed in tandem with her interest in the natural world. Now semi-retired, she recently donated her artistic archive representing forty years of work to Kenneth Spencer Research Library, where anyone using our reading room can request and view items from the D.D. Tyler collection, along with the many other books and manuscripts in the library’s collections.  Kenneth Spencer Research Library, located in the central KU Campus on Poplar Lane between Strong Hall and the Campanile, is open Mondays-Fridays 9-5 and (after fall semester classes begin August 20) Saturdays 9-1.

Karen Cook, DD Tyler, and Hank Tyler in front of the main exhibition title for "The Art of Nature," July 12, 2018

The artist, D.D. Tyler (center), and her husband, Hank Tyler (right), at the exhibition
with Karen Cook (left), curator of the exhibition. Click image to enlarge.

Karen Severud Cook
Special Collections Librarian

The Pelican in Her Piety

July 24th, 2017

Just a few months after I began working at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Dr. Elspeth Healey, one of our Special Collections librarians, showed me some materials she had pulled for a class on Renaissance printmaking. With my background in Medieval and Renaissance art history, I was excited to explore the materials she had selected. She drew my attention to a small image in Conrad Gessner’s Historiae Animalium, a sixteenth-century natural history tome featuring various bird species. The somewhat bizarre and gruesome image in question shows a pelican pecking at its breast with visible blood spilling on a nest of baby birds – a startling depiction but one familiar to me from medieval bestiaries. The rather macabre bird depicted was none other than a vulning or heraldic pelican.

Image of a vulning pelican in Historia animalium, 1555

A vulning pelican in Historia animalium by Conrad Gessner, 1555.
Call Number: Ellis Aves G97. Click image to enlarge.

The term vulning comes from the Latin verb “vulno” which means “to wound.” When pelicans feed their young, the mother macerates fish in the large sack in her beak then feeds it to her babies by lowering her beak to her chest to transfer the regurgitated fish more easily. The observation of this feeding practice led to the mistaken descriptions of female pelicans pecking their breasts and spilling blood onto their babies to provide sustenance. The idea of a pelican wounding herself for the sake of her young gained a religious connotation and became a symbol for Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death and resurrection – a necessary sacrifice for the redemption of humanity according to the Christian tradition. Also described as a “pelican in her piety,” the vulning pelican became a popular symbol in medieval heraldry and was featured in bestiaries (books about a mixture of real and imaginary animals) because of this religious association.

The presence of the vulning pelican in bestiaries could explains how this popular piece of religious symbolism found its way into a scientific study from the sixteenth century. Bestiaries were collections of descriptions of both real and mythological beasts. These creatures were typically accompanied by some moral tale that was meant to be instructional for the reader. While bestiaries had been around for centuries, they gained a high level of popularity during the Middle Ages. These bestiaries were in some ways the forerunners to later scientific publications like Conrad Gessner’s book about the natural history of animals. It is not surprising that certain illustrations were carried over from the bestiaries into early scientific books during the transition from the Medieval to the Renaissance period.

However, the vulning pelican also appeared in emblem books, a type of book that originated in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century, rapidly became fashionable throughout Europe, and remained popular until the early eighteenth century. An emblem book consists of a series of pictures, each accompanied by a motto and an explanatory poem, which together present a concept, usually with a moral, about a theme, such as religion, politics, or love. The vulning pelican appears in emblem books with a religious theme. This continuing popularity via another source could also account for the vulning pelican imagery’s use in naturalist texts.

The appropriation of the vulning pelican from religious symbol to scientific illustration has helped preserve the history of this strange depiction. Considering the vulning pelican’s history as a symbol of the Christian resurrection, it is rather ironic to see how this depiction has experienced a resurrection of its own throughout the centuries.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

February 11th, 2015

Tomorrow, February 12, marks Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday. To mark this anniversary, we’re sharing a letter that Darwin wrote to James E. Todd in April 1882. At the time, Todd was a professor of natural science at Tabor College, a Christian college in Tabor, Iowa, that operated from 1853 to 1927. He went on to teach geology at KU from 1907 until his death in 1922.

Image of the first page of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Image of the second and third pages of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Image of the fourth page of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882.
Call Number: MS C78. Click images to enlarge.

An article about this letter in Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science (Vol. 48, No. 3, December 1945) describes the circumstances in which it was written, although the author’s speculation that the document was “Darwin’s last letter” appears to be erroneous.

In April 1882, James E. Todd…published in the American Naturalist (volume 16, pages 281-287) a paper, “On the Flowers of Solanum Rostratum and Cassia Chamaecrista.” The paper soon came to the attention of Charles Darwin, then in his seventy-fourth year. Almost immediately Darwin wrote the letter to Professor Todd [shown here]…

The most extraordinary feature of the letter is its date, written nine days before Darwin’s death on April 19, 1882. Darwin had been in poor health for some time and beginning in December 1881 underwent a series of heart attacks. He rallied from these attacks and, as the letter indicates, by April was still mentally active and planning work for the future. Five days after writing the letter his final illness began…

Dr. Fritz Müller, referred to by Darwin in the letter [above], carried on an extensive correspondence with Darwin for many years, although the two naturalists never met (317).

Charles Darwin spent decades gathering evidence for evolution before publishing his groundbreaking book, On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, in 1859. As demonstrated by his letter to Professor Todd, he remained active in scientific research until the end of his life.

Want to learn more about Charles Darwin? Spencer Research Library holds copies of many of his published writings, including a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species. You can find these sources by searching the KU Libraries online catalog. Spencer’s collections also contain two additional letters from Darwin; transcriptions of both documents are available online (letter to Emma Gärtner and Charles Lyell). As always, however, anyone interested in seeing these materials in their original physical form are welcome to do so at Spencer!

Digital copies of many sources by and about Darwin are also available; see the Darwin Correspondence Project and Darwin Online.

A transcription of Darwin’s letter to Professor Todd, also from the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science article quoted above, follows.

April 10 1882.

Beckenham, Kent.
Railway Station
Orpington. S. E. R.

Dear Sir

I hope that you will excuse the liberty which as a stranger I take in begging a favor of you. I have read with unusual interest your very interesting paper in the American Naturalist on the structure of the flowers of Solanum rostratum, & I shd. [should] be grateful if you would send me some seed in a small box (telling me whether to plant in as annual, so that I may know when to sow the seeds), in order that I may have the pleasure of seeing the flowers & experimenting on them. But if you intend to experiment on them, of course you will not send me the seeds, as I shd. be very unwilling to interfere in any way with your work. I shd. also rather like to look at the flowers of Cassia chamaecrista.

Many years ago I tried some experiments in a remotely analogous case & this year am trying others. I described what I was doing to Dr. Fritz Müller (Blumenau, St. Catharina, Brazil) & he has told me that he believes that in certain plants producing 2 sets of anthers of a different colour, the bees collect the pollen from one of the sets alone. He wd. [would] therefore be much interested in your paper, if you have a spare copy that you could send him. I think, but my memory now often fails me, that he has published on the subject in Kosmos.

Hoping that you will excuse me, I remain, Dear Sir
Yours faithfully
Ch. Darwin

P. S. In my little book on the Fertilization of Orchids, you will find under Mormodes ignea, an account of a flower laterally asymmetrical, & what I think that I called right-handed or left-handed flowers.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Imagination; Or, the Herp is in the Eye of the Beholder

September 29th, 2014

When it comes to creating an exhibition of illustrated books with a biological theme, a fabulous sea monster can be almost anything in the eye of the creator, and by power of suggestion, in the eye of the beholder. Some historians of biology have suggested that the basis-in-fact for the Scandinavian sea monster, Bishop Pontoppidan’s kraaken in this case, was a whale, so the image was used in a past show of whaling books in the Spencer Library. But Moby Dick‘s author, Herman Melville, as well as marine biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, thought it more likely that the real basis for the legends was the giant squid. For purposes of this post, it’s a sea serpent, but we intend to keep it in mind for our up-and-coming Squid Exhibit.

Erik Pontoppidan (1698-1764). The natural history of Norway. London: 1755. (Ellis Aves E333)

Image from Erik Pontoppidan (1698-1764). The natural history of Norway. London: 1755.
Call number: Ellis Aves E333, Special Collections.

The Danish original of this natural history was published in Copenhagen (1752-1754), and is of interest chiefly for its accounts of the myths connected with whales and other natural curiosities such as the fabeled kraaken.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conservations