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Audubon’s Birds of America digitized online at The University of Pittsburgh

Audubon’s Birds of America digitized online at The University of Pittsburgh

The University Library System (ULS) at the University of Pittsburgh has digitized and mounted online its rare and complete set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America at http://digital.library.pitt.edu/a/audubon/

Each of the 435 plates link to their respective narrative within Audubon’s companion publication, his Ornithological Biography, also digitized as part of this project. No other complete set of the double elephant folio edition of the Birds of America is publicly available online in such high detail.

The University of Pittsburgh acquired a complete set of the Birds of America in 1918 when the daughters of William M. Darlington donated their father’s personal library to the University. Since then, the plates have undergone significant preservation work and have been on exhibit in Hillman Library. In late 2007, the Birds of America collection and the accompanying Ornithological Biography were scanned as part of a larger effort to digitize and make accessible contents from the Darlington Memorial Library.

The ULS Digital Research Library scanned each of the 435 hand-colored plates at a high resolution by using its A0 DigiBook SupraScan device. Each plate, measuring 26 x 38 inches, was digitized at 400 ppi in 24-bit color using a linear array 14000 pixel CCD camera. The capture of such high quality images has produced master files in excess of 500 MB each. For displaying the images online, the DRL created derivative images using the flash-based Zoomify application. This viewing tool enables users to easily move around an image while viewing portions of the plates at 100%.

Each of the 435 plates is accompanied by a brief descriptive record, which includes the engraved plate number, the name of the bird as designated by Audubon, the common name of the bird, the size of the engraved plate, and the plate caption, including the Latin scientific name of the bird. Rather than supply a detailed and lengthy description of each plate, the project team capitalized on connecting to Audubon’s rich narratives presented in his Ornithological Biography.

The digitization of this five-volume set by the DRL enabled each plate to be linked from its brief descriptive record to its respective narrative in the Ornithological Biography. This functionality supports a key relationship for those desiring to read Audubon’s observations and notes that he penned on each bird while examining the plates in great detail. Likewise, the digital version of the Ornithological Biography contains links to each plate image.

Individual plate reproductions are available for sale produced from the digital source using a giclée process and printed to scale on archival quality fine art mould-made paper.

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