Contact Us | Harvard University Herbaria | HOLLIS

Library Collections | Library Hours | Archives Policies | Material Duplication Information | Digital Resources


Papers of the Harvard Botanical Museum


Harvard University Museum Building
circa 1900

Researchers may consult materials from the archives only by appointment or written request. Send inquiries to Please allow 2-3 business days for the processing of written and e-mailed requests.

Below is a listing of the Economic Botany archival collections. Click on a specific collection to access its finding aid. This will provide you with biographical information, collection scope, size, and material types.


Historical Note

Originally called the Museum of Vegetable Products, the Botanical Museum of Harvard University was founded in 1858 by Asa Gray from a donation of duplicate economic botany materials given by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. In 1888, the University named George Lincoln Goodale the first director; and under his direction, the building of the Museum was completed. For nearly a century and a half, the Museum's research, teaching, and public exhibition activities have primarily revolved around the interdisciplinary study of economic botany, or "useful plants". Goodale's three successors, Directors Oakes Ames (1923-1945), Paul C. Mangelsdorf (1945-1967), and Richard Evan Schultes (1970-1985) significantly expanded the Museum's collections of economic products, medicinal plants, archaeological materials, plant taxonomies, field notes, artifacts, and photographs.

The collections of the Botanical Museum comprise the Economic Botany Collections, the Economic Herbarium of Oakes Ames, the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, the Paleobotanical Collection (including the Pollen Collection and the Margaret Towle Collection of Archaeological Plant Remains), the Economic Botany Library and Archives, and the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium and Library.

Faculty and students continue to contribute to the Museum's botanical research and teaching collections, covering a wide range of topics from ethnobotany, archaeoethobotany and paleobotany to the archaeological and genetic study of the origin of cultivated plants. The Museum's academic course offerings date back to 1876, with the installation in Harvard's Department of Biology of "Plants and Human Affairs", the country's oldest course in economic botany. Through its unique public exhibits and varied collections, the Botanical Museum is internationally recognized as one of the leading centers of research in the plant sciences. Currently, the administration of the exhibits at the Botanical Museum has merged with the Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum to create the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Provenance Note

These materials were removed from the office of Susan Rossi-Wilcox, former Curatorial Associate and Administrator for the Glass Flowers Collection at the Botanical Museum. The boxes were transferred to the Archives of the Botany Libraries in the summer of 2007.

Scope & Content Note

The Botanical Museum Papers is a wide-ranging collection comprised of materials pertaining to the Museum's administrative, research, teaching, and public exhibition activities.

Administrative material consists of loan and permission records relating to the economic botany collections; planning and financial papers; general correspondence; and publications and printed material records. Although a few items date prior to the late 1960s, most range from the late 1970s to 2004. Additional administrative files also cover the Harvard University Museum [Four Museums Under One Roof: The Botanical Museum, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Mineralogical and Geological Museum, and the Peabody Museum]. The majority of these papers originate in the late 1970s; however the early 1900s and the late 1990s are also represented.

The Botanical Museum's research records document the work of various botanists and other researchers from the late 1970s to 2001. Fields of interest include economic botany, the archaeological study of maize, and paleobotany. Papers of the Museum Directors and staff members constitute an important part of the collection, including records relating to Oakes Ames, the Museum's second Director (1923-1945), and Paul C. Mangelsdorf, Ames' successor (1945-1967). The only materials that apply to Richard E. Schultes, Director from 1970-1985, are several photographs, along with some color positives of a painting depicting Schultes with his blowgun in the Nash Lecture Hall.

Teaching and exhibition material consists of "Plants and Human Affairs" course manuals, as well as records involving the Nash Lecture Hall. Many exhibit-related papers are also featured, such as exhibit designs, visitor's registers, and other documents. This collection contains minimal information about the Glass Flowers.

The Botanical Museum Papers holds a rich collection of photographs, including beautifully mounted photographs of the Botanical Museum's interiors, the Nash Lecture Hall, and the Glass Flowers Exhibition. Some photographs date back to the late 1880s and others continue through to the year 2000. More visual materials include museum brochures, floor plans and other graphics, in addition to the 1954 television exposé by WNAC-TV Boston. Of note is early artwork by Blanche Ames, dating from 1915-1917 and 1936. Illustrations by Ruth Barton (1960-1961) and the Christmas cards by Elmer Smith (1960-1962, 1969-1971, and 1974) also contribute to the unique materials that comprise the Botanical Museum Papers.

Series Description

The Papers are arranged into six series with the following sub-series:

I. Office & Administrative Records
A. Loans and Permissions
B. Economic Botany Collections
C. Planning & Financial Materials
D. Correspondence & Memoranda
E. University Museum Materials
F. Miscellaneous

II. Research Records
A. Economic Botany
B. Archaeological Maize Collection
C. Paleobotany

III. Museum Directors & Personnel
A. Oakes Ames, Director from 1923-1945
B. Paul C. Mangelsdorf, Director from 1945-1967
C. Howard Allgaier, Printer to the Museum
D. Memorial Services

IV. Teaching & Exhibits
A. "Biology 104, Plants and Human Affairs"
B. Nash Lecture Hall
C. The Ware Collection of Glass Flowers, 1893-Present
D. Exhibit of Food Plants, 1939-1940
E. Pre-Cambrian Exhibit [ca. 1960s]
F. "Origins of Life" Exhibit, 1975
G. Island Biodiversity, Cuba, and the Harvard Collections, 1999
H. Visitor's Registers [1927-1928, 1996]
I. Miscellaneous

V. Visual Materials
A. Photographs
B. Graphic Materials
C. Publicity and Promotional Material
VI. Publications & Printed Material

Access Restrictions

Access to this collection is restricted. Financial records and other sensitive materials are closed. Please contact the archivist for more detailed access information.

Container List


Last updated February 2009. Send comments, corrections, or updates to:
Copyright 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

Arnold Arboretum | OEB | CBHL