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Semi-Historic Letter Collection


Access to this collection may be restricted. For further information regading a specific correspondant, please consult the Botany Libraries Archivist.

Scope and Content:

The Semi-Historical Letters consist of correspondence, mostly falling within the years 1890 to 1955, with a few letters as recent as 1965. The letters are mostly grouped in folders by sender and arranged in reverse chronological order within the folders. Most of the letters are addressed to members of the Gray Herbarium staff and appear to have been culled from the office files of the Gray Herbarium. Some letters - like the Merritt Lyndon Fernald files - look like they were personal files that were maintained separately from the main office files and added as a clump at a later point in time. Some letters - like letters to George E. Davenport - were gifts to the Gray Herbarium that were interfiled with the Semi-Historic Letters. The letters are from amateur and professional botanists, collectors, prospective students, suppliers, Harvard administration, members of the Visiting Committee, donors, etc. Topics covered include botanical issues such as controversies about botanical nomenclature, routine acknowledgments of loans of specimens, identification of specimens, and general Gray Herbarium business. While many of the letters are somewhat routine in nature, some of the letters provide interesting insight into personalities (e.g. letters of Marcus Jones) and into larger historical events (e.g. requests from several Viennese botanists for CARE certificates around 1920).


As in the case of the Historic Letters, the process by which the Semi-Historic files were built up is somewhat unclear. No information has been found to date that explains the role or development of the Semi-Historical Letters from 1890 to 1948. Starting in 1948, with Reed Rollins's directorship, the main office files kept in the director's office were sorted periodically, with non-current items moved to a dead file. From time to time the dead file was culled and materials were selected for transfer to the Semi-Historical file. Identifications of plants and correspondence of a temporary nature were weeded out; the correspondence of significant botanists, of former Harvard students, and of anyone involved with the administration of the Gray Herbarium was saved. By 1970, the occasional shifting of materials from the dead file to the Semi-Historic files seems to have ceased. No further additions were made until 1981, when some materials were again interfiled with the main body of the Semi-Historic files.

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