In: The Flowering of Ecology
Kay Etheridge
Search for other papers by Kay Etheridge in
Current site
Google Scholar
Free access


When I was five or six years old, my father gave me an illustrated book on the natural history of animals and plants. I remember looking through it with him, fascinated by the images and curious about the lives of the animals pictured. As my interest in nature grew, my mother gave me jars for pet insects and tolerated the tadpoles, snakes and salamanders I brought home. It seems that the path towards making this book was set at an early age. Becoming a biologist was a gradual education with the usual formal elements. Learning how to investigate the history of science and natural history art has come about by a more circuitous route, assisted along the way by countless people. I regret that I cannot recognize all of them by name here.

I must begin by thanking my friend and translator, Michael Ritterson. Translation of the Raupen text was a long, iterative process as we learned more about how Maria Sibylla Merian expressed herself, the idiosyncrasies of 17th century German, and the biological terms in use (or not) in her day. Michael’s patience and attention to detail are extraordinary, but he contributed much more than files of translated text. He looked over the primary and secondary literature in German that I came across, helped determine what was of interest to this project, and translated these sources as needed. In the process, he independently found other sources, and in one case, contacted the author of an article, Margot Lölhöffel, for more information. She very kindly responded with added information and more articles. Thanks to Michael, Margot became my correspondent, friend, and ultimately, my primary source for learning about the history of Nuremberg and Merian’s life and work in that city. She and Dieter Lölhöffel hosted me at their home, showed me Merian’s Nuremberg, and together we made discoveries in the rich library and museum collections in that city as well as in nearby Bamberg and Erlangen. A highlight of my time with Margot and Dieter was a visit to ‘Merian’s garden’ in grounds of the Nuremberg castle. Thanks to their tireless efforts to bring Merian’s history to the eye of the modern public, this restored garden has been dedicated to honoring her work there.

Florence Pieters, former curator of the Artis Library, has been an amazing font of knowledge, as well as my friend, supporter, and sounding board for more than a decade. Florence and I have spent many enjoyable hours vigorously discussing all things Merian. Her book-filled home in Amsterdam, which we have dubbed the ‘Maria Sibylla Merian Study Center,’ has been my base for weeks of work at the Artis Library, the Rijksmuseum and places slightly further afield such as Teylers Museum in Haarlem.

At the Artis Library, I came to know Hans Mulder, current curator of this rich collection of natural history literature and images. Hans became another irreplaceable resource and a pillar of unwavering support during my ever-expanding Merian project; he also facilitated the acquisition of many of the images for this book. Florence and Hans have contributed endlessly to what I have learned about Merian and her time in Amsterdam, but also about the history of books. Both have translated Dutch text for me, some excerpts of which are in the present volume. Hans also introduced me to Ad Stijnman, whose meticulous tutelage on the process of etching and engraving clarified a good many pieces of the Merian puzzle. Through Florence and Hans, I came to know other experts in natural history studies and the social/scholarly networks of my period of interest. I especially want to thank Diny Winthagen, Bert van de Roemer, and Marieke van Delft, all of whom have lent a hand to the project, both through their knowledge and their friendship.

Over time, my developing ‘Merian network’ led me to meet and correspond with Kurt Wettengl and Katharina Schmidt-Loske, whose scholarship and valuable insights on Merian further informed my research. Through Florence and Diny, I had the good fortune to meet Joos van de Plas, an artist who has investigated Merian in a number of extraordinary ways in her own work. Joos has raised many species of butterflies and moths through metamorphosis as part of her artwork. As I visited her studio and garden, she led me to understand the amount of work and care involved in lepidopteran husbandry, as well as providing an utterly fresh perspective from which to view Merian’s work.

Two other excellent teachers on my way to learning about natural history books and their genesis have been Leslie Overstreet and Tony Willis. Leslie assisted me extensively as I worked in the Cullman Library of the Smithsonian, and she has answered endless questions over the years both in person and by email. She and Janice Neri, whose scholarship also inspired me, were essential in helping me obtain much needed funding by writing letters of recommendation to some of the organizations listed below. Tony Willis guided me as I explored the unique collection of books, manuscripts, and artwork at the Oak Spring Garden Library (e.g. Jacob Marrel’s tulip portraits), and he has graciously provided images for my book. Charlotte Tancin of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation has answered my questions on a number of occasions, helping me to understand the use of printers’ ornaments as just one example. This book was made possible by many more institutions and their staff than can be named here, and I am infinitely appreciative. I was repeatedly amazed by the helpful and cooperative spirit of people who steered me to resources in their collection, answered my many questions, and facilitated scans and permissions for the dozens of illustrations that appear in this book.

Once the book manuscript was in draft form, another team of talented friends and colleagues came to my assistance. The book has benefited tremendously from Esther van Gelder’s careful reading of more than one draft. She provided a number of thoughtful suggestions that greatly improved the structure of the book. Esther seemed to discover every single place in the manuscript where I had struggled with organizing large amounts of information, and she proposed an elegant solution for each of these tangles. Dominik Hünniger read early versions of the German translations and made constructive suggestions, as did Florence Pieters. I am indebted to Brian Ogilvie for his detailed feedback on the manuscript and for providing the foreword; his extensive writings also steered much of my thinking about material in the first chapter. Andreas Weber was very helpful as my series editor in bringing the final stages of the manuscript to publication, and at Brill, Rosanna Woensdregt provided ever-patient assistance with publication details. Throughout the manuscript phase of the project, Henrietta McBurney Ryan provided both wisdom and moral support at a number of times when I felt like this book would never be finished.

I am grateful for funding support from Gettysburg College, the Renaissance Society of America (Paul Oskar Kristeller Grant), and the American Philosophical Society (Franklin Research Grant). A fellowship from the National Endowment of the Humanities supported an extended sabbatical at a critical point in the project.

Last but certainly not least, I am grateful for the encouragement and patience of family and friends, especially my husband, Don Walz.

  • Collapse
  • Expand