Art of Life

The Art of Life project, which has been generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and runs from May 2011-April 2014, seeks to liberate natural history illustrations from the digitized books and journals in the online Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) through development of software tools for automated identification and description of visual resources.

Contained within BHL’s digitized texts are millions of visual resources (plates, illustrations, figures, maps, and other images), many of which were produced by the finest botanical and zoological illustrators in the world, including the likes of John James Audubon, Georg Dionysus Ehret, and Pierre Redouté . Unfortunately, these images are difficult if not impossible to find because their page locations are not known and their subject content not described.

Through this project staff from the Missouri Botanical Garden, in partnership with Indianapolis Museum of Art, propose to build new software tools to run across the entire BHL corpus and identify the visual resources within, thereby ensuring these images are not only more useful to the current audience of scholars who consult BHL on a regular basis, and discoverable by new audiences, but also better interconnected with related materials across the Web. Scholars and educators who rely heavily on visual resources in their research and teaching (e.g. biologists, art historians, curators, historians of science) will, for the first time, be able to find and view a wealth of illustrations of plant and animal life from which to make connections between science, art, culture, and history.

Trish Rose-Sandler, Principal Investigator, Missouri Botanical Garden (
Mike Blomberg, UI development, Missouri Botanical Garden
Chuck Miller, Consultant, Missouri Botanical Garden
Doug Holland, Consultant, Missouri Botanical Garden
Mike Lichtenberg, Programmer, Missouri Botanical Garden
William Ulate, Project Management/Budgeting, Missouri Botanical Garden
Kyle Jaebker, Project Management, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Ed Bachta, Programmer, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Charlie Moad, Project Management, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Gaurav Vaidya, Schema design & Wikimedia Commons liaison, University of Colorado Boulder
Doug Holland, Advisory Board Member, Director of Missouri Botanical Garden Library
Hong Cui, Advisory Board Member, Assistant Professor at University of Arizona
David Kohn, Advisory Board Member, Director and General Editor for Darwin Manuscripts Project, American Museum of Natural History
Charles Miller, Advisory Board Member, Chief Information Officer for Missouri Botanical Garden
Nancy Gwinn, Advisory Board Member, Director for Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Robert Guralnick, Advisory Board Member, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder
Betty Smocovitis, Advisory Board Member, Professor of Zoology and History at the University of Florida