Visualization in Biology: An Aquatic Case Study

Visualization in Biology: An Aquatic Case Study

Maura C. Flannery (St. John's University, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0480-1.ch005
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This chapter deals with what are commonly called seaweed, but are more correctly termed algae, that is, photosynthetic organisms that live in aquatic environments. Algae are visually beautiful and therefore a good subject for a biology teacher looking to explore the intersection of art and science with students. These connections run deep into knowledge production because drawing is fundamental not only to communicating information about organisms but also to investigating their characteristics. Observation and comparison are key tools in learning about the living world, and drawing is essential to these processes. Also discussed here will be the importance of relating texts, photographs, specimens, and drawings in assisting students to learn about algae. In addition, online sources for these tools will be explored.
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Collecting Seaweed Or Algae

Botany, the study of plants, was particularly popular among women because collecting plants was considered less strenuous than hunting animals or scaling the heights in search of rock specimens. Emily Dickinson made a herbarium in 1845 when she was a student at Amherst Academy and wrote to a friend: “Most all the girls are making one” (Dickinson, 2006). While Dickinson’s specimens were all land plants, seaweed or algae collection was a rage that extended to the end of the 19th century in the United States after beginning in the late 18th century in Europe. The estate sale records for both Queen Charlotte and the Duchess of Portland list seaweed collections among their plant specimens, and Anne Christie (2011) has written about the seaweed calico prints created by the botanical illustrator and fabric designer William Kilburn in the 1790s. Christie sees these two types of interest as related and argues, as Emma Spary (2004) has, that a scholarly interest in a subject, such as seaweed, was often manifested in an interest in related design, as an outward manifestation of knowledge. This was particularly true for women who were less able to publically display their erudition.

One of the most spectacular displays of macroalgae in the 19th century was the work of Anna Atkins (1850) who produced hundreds of nature prints in the form of cyanotypes of seaweeds in her Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843-53). A cyanotype is a form of photograph created by placing a specimen on chemically treated paper that turns blue when exposed to light, usually by placing the preparation in bright sunlight. Each of Atkins’s photographs is labeled with the species name, so the work is somewhat scientific, even if the date and location of collection are not given. Atkins’s work is discussed in Ocean Flowers, a book on nature prints and botanical art, focusing on aquatic plants. In it, Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (2004) also describe the bound volumes of pressed seaweed specimens, exsiccatae, published by Mary Wyatt (1834). She was advised by Amelia Warren Griffths who was highly regarded for her botanical knowledge by such botanist as George Bentham and William Jackson Hooker, and sent many specimens to Robert Kaye Greville (1830) who later published the Algae Britannicae. The botanist William Henry Harvey (1849) suggests that readers of his Manual of British Algae, which was without illustrations, would do well to refer to Wyatt’s exsiccatae, Algae Danmonienses (1834-1840) published in five volumes. He writes that the specimens were almost as good as illustrations, that they were beautifully dried and accurately named (Livingstone and Withers, 2011).

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