UT Library Celebrates Gift of an 18th Century Text

DeoOptimo_smallThe public is invited to an event celebrating a special gift to the University of Tennessee Libraries on the evening of Thursday, March 14, at the John C. Hodges Library on the UT campus.

University of Tennessee Library Friends and guests will gather to learn about the antecedents of a rare 1725 pamphlet written by one of Louis XV’s gardeners on a subject that references the Appalachian region.

Each year the Library Friends group pools undesignated donations to make a single gift to the UT Libraries. This year’s gift from the Library Friends is a pamphlet recording a disputation among learned 18th century physicians on a Quaestio Medica — a medical question — “Whether or not the Apalachine drink from America is healthful?”

Bernard de Jussieu, the presenter of the remarks recorded in this pamphlet, belonged to a prominent French family that included a number of distinguished botanist-gardeners of the 18th and 19th centuries. Successive generations of the de Jussieu family served as directors of the famous botanical garden of the French kings, the Jardin du Roi. Bernard de Jussieu was Sub-demonstrator of Plants at the royal garden under Louis XV. He and his two brothers — Antoine, who was director of the Jardin du Roi, and Joseph, who traveled the world seeking new botanical specimens to ship back to the king’s garden — are as renowned among botanists as their contemporary Carl Linnaeus.

In the 18th century, voyages of colonial expansion or botanical exploration resulted in an influx of new plant species sent back to Europe for cultivation in botanical gardens. The new plant material helped spur advances in plant taxonomy like the classification schemes of Linnaeus and Bernard de Jussieu.

At the March 14 event, guests will hear from an expert on the history of botanical excursions into the New World. Ronald H. Petersen, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, will give a talk at 6:30 p.m. in the Hodges Library auditorium.

Specializing in the fungi, botanist Ron Petersen has described the mushrooms and their relatives from the Smoky Mountains and many other places on earth. One of his avocations, however, has been the natural history of the Southern Appalachians. He has published accounts of botanical penetration of the mountains in the 1830s and ’40s, the survey of a line marking the boundary between the Cherokee Nation and the spreading early colonial pioneers, as well as (with UT librarian Ken Wise) a natural history of Mt. LeConte. His most ambitious project has been New World Botany: Columbus to Darwin (2001), tracing botanical exploration and knowledge in and about the New World over five centuries.

The public is invited to a reception in the Jack E. Reese Galleria at 5:30 p.m., followed by Dr. Petersen’s talk at 6:30 p.m. The rare Quaestio Medica pamphlet will be on display in the Libraries’ Special Collections department.

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