By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|Bartschella schumannii Britton & Rose. Collected by J. N. Nelson in Northwest Mexico, on March 23, 1911. USNM 638432. Courtesy of Botany Department, National Museum of Natural History.|
Recently, the Field Book Project made available some of botanist Joseph Nelson Rose’s field books for volunteers to transcribe on Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. To highlight this new content, the Field Book Project would like to provide readers with a little more background about the scientist and the man.
Over the last three years we have frequently written blog posts highlighting personal interests and interesting facets of the collectors’ lives. J. N. Rose was a botanist with the USDA and Smithsonian Institution. He traveled extensively through the American tropics, co-wrote important botanical texts, and collected extensively for the National Herbarium. When I prepared to write this piece, I anticipated the writing would be a fairly easy task.
Though he had a full and active career, I found little that described the scientist himself. What I did find, described a man that seemed to be well regarded and hardworking; he did not readily seek attention for himself. A good amount of his botanical work was even completed in collaboration with others. He co-wrote with at least 12 other botanists. The few articles I found that offered any personal description of Rose made me wish more information was available.
William Trelease wrote in a 1928 issue of Science about his colleagues’ response to the death of Rose. He wrote that the staff of the US National Museum was called by the Secretary of the Institution, Charles Greeley Abbot, to gather in order to show their appreciation.
To those of us who listened, as speakers rose here and there in the room, the kindly personality of a friend and a talented devotion of an able man in earnest work unfolded. To those of us that spoke, the sadness of the occasion was blended with the consolation born of the knowledge that a well-rounded-out life had come to ripe fruition.
The article continues to elaborate about the diligent and conscientious lifelong work of Rose, but gives few details about the personal life of a man and scientist who was obviously appreciated and admired by his colleagues.
This appearance of privacy continues in a piece written about Rose and his work with Nelson Lord Britton. Richard S. Cowan and Frans A. Stafleu, in a 1981 issue of Brittonia, mention that going through available archival and published materials provided little personal information about the man except for his devotion to his botanical work. What is available speaks to his evident “spirit of cooperation, his invariable tolerance and remarkably even temperament.”
His spirit of cooperation and belief in the importance of scientific discovery seems a perfect complement to the work of the transcription center volunteers. Transcribing makes these materials and their contents accessible and useable in a host of new ways. We encourage you to take a look through his and the other field books now available online from Smithsonian.