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In 2000 the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation approached Mrs. Paul Mellon with a proposal for digitizing selections from the rare book collection held in her Oak Spring Garden Library in Upperville, Virginia. The images and information gathered would be published on the internet for public use and linked to collections and artifacts from other institutions to create a resource for both scholars and laymen who would not normally have access to these pieces of history and science.

Mrs. Mellon chose from her library Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau's Traité des Arbres Fruitiers, a two-volume book on fruit trees as the axis by which the project would revolve. The many applications of this text would appeal to arborists, artists, bibliographers, conservationists, gardeners, historians, landscape architects, pomologists, rare book collectors and others. With practical information on the care of fruit trees, beautifully hand-colored illustrations, a detailed provenance and the book's value as a work of art in itself, this publication from 1768 would serve as a pivotal reference for converging scholarly interests.

The library would require assistance and specialized training from a capable institution with the tools and experience to direct the project. The Missouri Botanical Garden, already familiar with digitizing and publishing large volumes of information on the internet, trained the Oak Spring Garden Library staff and served as a guide by which the library could establish an on-site laboratory for digital imaging. Initial project goals included the ability to virtually browse books from cover to cover, look at pages in detail, search the text, read a translation of the French text into English, compare the images of the plants depicted in the book with photographs of the plants in their natural habitat (with the aid of MBG's TROPICOS system), look up the proper nomenclature for the plants, and follow links to other facts relating to the work.

The Missouri Botanical Garden chose to contribute to the rare book digitizing project with a work from the collection of their library by Jean Henri Jaume Saint-Hilaire. Jaume Saint-Hilaire was influenced by Duhamel's research, and partially authored the Traité des Arbres et Arbustes que l'on Cultive en France (commonly known as the Nouveau Duhamel), which combined the work of Duhamel and several of his successors. The result served as a definitive guide to the trees of Western Europe for decades after its publication in 1819. A portrait of Duhamel serves as the frontispiece to Jaume Saint-Hilaire's Traité des Arbres Forestiers. It is an appropriate tribute to bring these two men, with their shared passion for trees, together in a project that is as equally innovative.

- Bret Payne, 2002

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Copyright © 2002 Oak Spring Garden Foundation and Missouri Botanical Garden. E-mail comments to Bret Payne