In 1971, John Stauffer “Jack” McIlhenny (1909-1997) transformed LSU Libraries with the gift of the personal library of his uncle, E. A. “Ned” McIlhenny of Avery Island, LA. The exhibition “Flora & Fauna at 50: The E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection 1971-2021” commemorates this landmark acquisition, and is on display now through the end of the Spring 2022 semester.
The E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection holds thousands of titles published over five centuries, written in a variety of languages and treating a vast array of subjects. Some of the earliest works published in Europe were natural histories, compilations of works written by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Correspondence and specimens sent to Europe from naturalists, soldiers, and missionaries from across the globe inspired numerous works beginning in the 16th century. Authors struggled to incorporate unfamiliar plants, animals, and cultures into contemporary conceptions of a divinely created world with humans at its center. Colonial powers sponsored travel narratives to entice migrants, and these works often provided rich descriptions of exotic landscapes, creatures, and flora. Native and Creole naturalists participated in expeditions and contributed to the growing body of work on natural history. Modern titles in the collection reflect the growing awareness of the impact of human activity on the environment and the need for ecologically sound conservation efforts.
For the remainder of his life, McIlhenny (known to his friends and fans as “Mr. Mac”) added to the collection and provided an endowment to ensure its continued growth. Generous donors such as Dr. James M. Bishop and Tom Taylor have given significant works to this and other collections within LSU Libraries Special Collections, to extend the McIlhenny legacy.
The exhibition and the collection are free to access and are open to the public.
John Stauffer “Jack” McIlhenny by Fonville Winans, c. 1987. From the John S. McIlhenny Papers, Mss. 4962; E. A. “Ned” McIlhenny with alligator nest and eggs. From The Alligator’s Life History by E. A. McIlhenny, 1935; Exhibition gallery, “Birds” section.