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Home / Guide Collections / James A. Duke Papers

James A. Duke Papers

James A. Duke Introduction

The James A. Duke Papers span the years 1948-1994. The collection is 19 linear feet and occupies 14 boxes. The collection was donated to Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library in June 2009. Materials are in good condition. There are no restrictions on use of the materials. The collection was minimally arranged and described in 2010 by Perry Ma.


Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) acquires, arranges, describes, preserves and makes available rare materials significant to the history of agriculture. Materials are obtained through donation or active collection in accordance with the established Special Collections collection development policy. Special Collections staff organize and describe materials according to archival principles and create descriptions and indexes to enhance access. Staff do not edit or otherwise modify the original materials. The views expressed in the collections do not necessarily reflect the policies of the National Agricultural Library or the United States Department of Agriculture.

Biographical Sketch

1929: Born in Birmingham, Alabama

1955: Graduated with a master’s degree in botany from the University of North Carolina

1955: Served in the United States Army at Fort Dietrick, Maryland, where he worked on projects focused on developing protection against biological warfare agents

1961: Completed his Ph.D. in botany at the University of North Carolina. Joined a research expedition to Mexico to collect specimens for a National Science Foundation-funded study of carrot family (Umbelliferae) chromosomes. Undertook postdoctoral studies in neotropical ethnobotany at the Missouri Botanical Garden, identifying medicinal plants from Panama and Peru.

1963: Joined the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland as an ecologist

1965: Joined Batelle Columbus Laboratories, where he researched ecology and ethnobotany in Panama and Colombia

1971: Re-joined USDA, conducting research in the areas of crop diversification, medicinal plants, and energy plant studies in developing countries. During his career, he developed the Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases, which continue to be hosted online by the USDA.

1995: Retired from USDA

Scope and Content Notes

The James A. Duke Papers consist of notes, drafts of articles, published articles, reprints, statistical data, reports, and photographs. Materials document the uses of common roots, herbs, fruits, vegetables, plants, and leaves to prevent or even cure illnesses. Duke analyzes and discusses the different types of chemical composition of the roots, herbs, fruits, vegetables, plants and leaves. He also provides details about his trips to various places including where he lived with different ethnic groups and how these groups used their surrounding forest products to create “folk” remedies or herbal medicines. Besides studying these ethnic groups’ forest dependency, Duke writes about different everyday foods and how they can prove to be advantageous or disadvantageous to healthy living.