Finding a goldmine of natural history illustrations within BHL texts: the Art of Life project
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The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) has now achieved a critical mass of digitized historic texts – over 41 million pages and counting. The BHL portal can be searched by several access points ...
The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) has now achieved a critical mass of digitized historic texts – over 41 million pages and counting. The BHL portal can be searched by several access points including title, author, subject, and scientific name. But, what is largely hidden and entirely unsearchable are the millions of natural history illustrations found with the BHL books and journals. These visual resources which include drawings, paintings, photographs, maps and diagrams represent work by some of the finest botanical and zoological illustrators in the world, including the likes of John James Audubon, Georg Dionysus Ehret, and Pierre Redouté. Many of the illustrations are the first recorded descriptions of much of the world’s biota, providing the scientific foundation for contemporary taxonomic research and conservation assessments. Some of them are the only verifiable resource about an organism and their existence on Earth due to changes in global climate patterns and rapid loss of natural habitat for many species. Audiences for these illustrations also cross a variety of disciplines and include: biologists, artists, historians, illustrators, graphic designers, archivists, educators, students, and citizen scientists.
In 2012, the Missouri Botanical Garden was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a project called The Art of Life: Data Mining and Crowdsourcing the Identification and Description of Natural History Illustrations from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). This talk will discuss the Art of Life objectives and current status. It will go into detail about the algorithms and schema designed for finding which pages contain illustrations and describing the subsequent output. Finally the talk will discuss the project’s benefits for the scientific community such as improving access to a significant collection of public domain images related to biodiversity.
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