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The Economic Botany Library of Oakes Ames


Economic Botany Display
University Museum, circa 1900

A rainy day may always be spent profitably among good books. Even though we do not read them, but just turn the pages to catch a line here and there, we often glean in the course of twelve hours a rich mental harvest from the books of a well selected collection.... An essay on botany or a ramble through an old herbal afford as much pleasure as I need for daily comfort.
Oakes Ames
Jottings of a Harvard Botanist, 1874-1950

Click here to access the Economic Botany Clippings File


Oakes Ames (1874-1950), was hired as an Instructor of Botany immediately after receiving his Master's degree from Harvard in 1900. Thus began a career at Harvard which lasted 50 years. In 1926 he became a full Professor of Botany and moved on to hold the positions of Arnold Professor of Botany and Research Professor of Botany, which he held until his retirement in 1941.

Ames's first contact with economic botany came when he took over as Director of the Botanical Garden in 1909. There he worked with his predecessor and former teacher, Professor Goodale, who was compiling materials to teach a course on the subject. Ames became interested and in 1909 taught the course "Outlines of Economic Botany". The course was successful and a lifelong interest was born.

Along with teaching, Ames began to collect a herbarium of wild and cultivated plants that man, both past and present, depended upon. Along with the Herbarium he collected plant products and a library of literature to help him, and his students, with his courses. This library, referred to by Ames as a "gentleman's library" comprised 16,000 volumes, pamphlets, theses, and reports when it was given to Harvard in 1941.The collection covered botanical, anthropological, geographical, pharmacological, chemical, and agricultural aspects of useful plants.

Today, the collection numbers more than 32,000 volumes and over 170 periodical titles. It specializes in materials related to economic botany, medical botany, ethnobotany, narcotics and hallucinogens, sustainable agriculture, Linneana, and edible and poisonous plants.

The Economic Botany stacks are closed and the collections are non-circulating. Materials may be consulted in the Botany Libraries' main reading room, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

To obtain more information about the Economic Botany Library of Oakes Ames Library's collections or for a specific reference request email us.


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Last updated May 2013
Copyright 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

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