Oxford Digital Library

John Gould's ornithological work - Demonstration project
Zoology Department

John Gould (1804-1881) published a series of superb imperial folio format volumes with nearly 3,000 colour plates describing birds on every continent apart from Africa. Probably the most splendid and certainly the most innovative series are the 6 volumes of A monograph of the Trochilidae, published between 1861 and 1887. The colouring techniques have wonderfully captured the iridescence of the hummingbirds’ plumage. While he experimented extensively with colouring methods he may also have plagiarised distant colleagues’ techniques. Gould acknowledges Walter Hood Fitch’s illustrations of South American plants in the Third series of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine as the source of many of the background plants (often quite inappropriate) portrayed in this series.

For this pilot study, we propose to digitise 20 hummingbird plates and their accompanying texts selected from the 6 volumes of A monograph of the Trochilidae, 1861-1887. It is often difficult to match birds and flower names with those in use today as they have been changed often several times over the years. We propose to provide the current scientific name, comment on the appropriateness of the botanical background as a suitable food source or distribution and to annotate and update Gould’s original species accounts, which describe mating habits, diet and breeding distribution.

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