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Howard Samuel Irwin

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Records of the Herbarium (RG 4)
3 linear feet (4 boxes)


Howard Samuel Irwin, a taxonomic botanist specializing in the study of Cassia, began his career at the NYBG in 1960 as a Research Associate and worked his way up to the position of President from 1973-1979.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1928, he received his undergraduate degree from the College of Puget Sound in 1950. A Fulbright scholar teaching botany and zoology at Queen's College in British Guiana from 1952-1956, he returned to the USA to study at the University of Texas for his PhD in taxonomic botany from 1956-1960.

Dr. Irwin began his association with the NYBG as early as 1956 when he began to participate in NYBG's Venezuelan expeditions. He joined the staff and served as Research Associate from 1960-1963, Associate Curator from 1963-1966, Curator and Administrator of the Herbarium from 1966-1968, Head Curator from 1968-1971, Executive Director from 1971-1972 and finally as President from 1973-1979.

During his time at the NYBG, Dr. Irwin led eight expeditions to Brazil and the Guianas between 1960-1972 and is most known for coordinating the Planalto do Brasil Program for the botanical study of this isolated region of Brasil. Dr. Irwin is also responsible for administering the NYBG through its most difficult financial period.


The Howard S. Irwin Records cover the entire period of his employment at the NYBG. There are also papers from the late 1950's concerning the NYBG Venezuelan expeditions of which he was a member while in graduate school as well as a file called parting thoughts written to his successor Thomas Hubbard, which Dr. Irwin wished to have included with this collection. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence. Included herein are also maps, manuscripts, photographs and newspaper clippings. Also included is the original manuscrpt of his dissertation along with its accompanying commentary. The Collectors' Field Notebooks series contains 20 of Dr. Irwin's field notebooks. All of them concern Brazil and the Guyanas, except for the earliest dated 1944-45 which concerns Ecuador.


Series 1: Planalto do Brasil
Series 2: Lectures
Series 3: Correspondence (Subject)
Series 4: Correspondence (People)
Series 5: Dissertation

Series 1     Planalto do Brasil
                  5 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically

The Planalto do Brasil Project was founded and directed by Dr. Irwin from 1964 to 1972, at which time he gave up the directorship. It was a ten year collaboration between the NYBG and the Universidade de Brasilia to explore and collect in the plateau of south-central Brazil of the same name. By 1972 the program had collected over 225,000 specimens and over 30,000 numbers. Included in this series is the correspondence written and answered while on expedition, permits, budgets, supply lists, determinations and financial statements.

Series 2     Lectures
                  4 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically

These lectures were given by Dr. Irwin at a variety of events from groundbreaking ceremonies and symposia to professional societies and radio interviews. Some of them appear to be articles for publication rather than lectures but they were all labelled as such. There is also a file of various undated lectures and correspondence pertaining to lecturing.

Series 3     Correspondence (Subject)
                  15 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically

These subject oriented correspondence files include expedition reports, supply lists, specimen determinations, annual reports, book reviews, grant applications and manuscripts. Included are files on Cassia research in conjunction with Rupert Barneby, a Cassieae key, the early use of computers in taxonomy, Time-Life, Crowell-Collier and University of Texas publishers, the Museu Goeldi, the Smithsonian and its specimen determinations from British Guiana expeditions, photographs from the 1963 Suriname Expedition and a file of letters written to Thomas Hubbard, the President who succeeded Dr. Irwin at the NYBG, entitled parting thoughts.

Series 4     Correspondence (People)
                  13 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically

These files contain personal correspondence from Dr. Irwin's career at the NYBG. Important correspondants include: B. L. Turner of the University of Texas Department of Botany, William Steere, Bassett Maguire and Rupert Barneby, all of the NYBG. It should be noted that a large part of the correspondence of Dr. Irwin can also be found within the Administrative Records of the NYBG as well as the Records of the Herbarium. Alston correspondence concerns Cassia as does that of Barneby. Rogers is concerned with Manihot and the early use of computers in taxonomy. Steere is concerned mostly with financial and administrative planning. Cowan contains Maguire's Guianan determination lists. Tillett contains an account of the 1961 Jari River Expedition in which Walter A. Engler met his death as well as an account of the fire which ravaged Dr. Irwin's home in New York,  lists of wood samples collected in British Guiana and a list of the drug samples collected for the Ely Lilly Company.

Series 5     Dissertation
                   1 lin. in.

The original typescript manuscript of Dr. Irwin's dissertation along with the accompanying commentary from his advisor Dr. Richard S. Cowan.


New York Botanical Garden

CFN     Numbers 130-31, 214, 341, 427-39, 441-42, 481

RG4     Records of the Herbarium

RG3     Records of the Chief Executive Officer

Processed January 2000 by Stephen Sinon under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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