By Meghan Ferriter, Ph.D., Project Coordinator, Smithsonian Transcription Center
While it’s true that we think of the Transcription Center as a site of discovery, we don’t always anticipate which specific connections will be uncovered in the process of transcription.
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about the delight of discovery directly from one of our volunteers. Siobhan Leachman and I talked via e-mail about her experiences transcribing from New Zealand – and what she had learned about Field Book Project researchers and expeditions. I asked Siobhan to share more about how she got hooked on transcribing, after she noted that she was a bit tentative at first.
SL: The project that really got me addicted was Vernon Bailey's field notes. I started on that not long after it was uploaded. The main reason I enjoyed that project so much was Vernon’s spare but descriptive writing style. He was writing about wolves, which to me are a lot more interesting than insects or plants, and was also describing the conditions he had to put up with on his trip as well as the people he came in contact with. It made his journal come alive. I worked solidly on his journal over one weekend and transcribed most of it in the space of three days with the help of some other enthusiastic volunteers. I was completely hooked and kept working on it as I wanted to know what happened next. For me it was like reading a movie script, I had images of “Dances with Wolves” going through my head, and there was always something interesting happening just on the next page.
|Page 3 of Vernon Bailey's field book, "Journal kept by Bailey on field trip to Wyoming and New Mexico, March 15-June 1906 ." Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007267, Box 2, Folder 4.|
Siobhan previously shared that, after working on Vernon’s field notes, she was most interested in Florence Bailey, Vernon’s wife. Fortunately, Florence was also a researcher and ornithologist – if you’re a regular Field Book Project blog reader, you may recall a post written by Lesley Parilla about the couple and their long research careers. Before Florence’s field notes were available in the Transcription Center, however, Siobhan had the chance to work on Frederick Coville’s field notes. Very quickly, connections between the projects were becoming clear:
SL: Once I started doing more transcribing more names started to become familiar. Vernon Bailey mentioned C. Hart Merriam, who I’ve since learned is Florence Bailey’s brother. Florence of course being Vernon’s wife. Then there are Coville’s field notes, that also mention a person called Bailey, who I’m assuming will either be Florence or more likely Vernon. After a while I realised that these groups of people working in the same area, at the same time, and are of course colleagues. They mention each other in their diaries and journals. It makes it a more interesting experience for me if I know the background of the people I’m working on.
We also have Leonhard Stejneger’s field notes from an expedition with C. Hart Merriam in the Transcription Center! Right alongside our volunteers, we are learning about the social histories and political relationships outlined in the transcriptions. As the Field Book Project digitizes field notes for easier access to this wealth of scientific activity, it also gives us insight into daily lives in different regions of the world. Siobhan emphasized that the details drew deeper connections into these projects.
SL: I’ve enjoyed [Vernon Bailey and Florence Bailey] field journals. They are such descriptive writers who go to the trouble of describing their surroundings and in particular other people. Florence describes tuberculosis patients as well as their family members on a train. She eaves drops constantly on conversations and is very good at giving you a real image of what it was like. You could almost be sitting next to her on the train. …[Also in her] description of San Francisco in 1907. I found it fascinating that she didn’t mention the word earthquake at all, but went into great detail about the devastation of the fires on the city.
|Page 29 of Florence Merriam Bailey's field book, "Journal, California, 1907." Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007417, Box 1.|
We love the idea of taking a train ride with some of the Field Book Project scientists – a viewpoint you’ll get if you help review Florence’s notes in the Transcription Center. You might take on Siobhan’s thoughtful advice on transcribing from the “volunpeer” perspective.
SL: My advice for any new volunteer transcriber is find a project you love. If you are anything like me, you’ll feel like you are making wonderful new friends, even though the people whose work you are transcribing have died long before you were born. I would have loved to have invited Vernon and Florence to dinner. And I know they would have loved New Zealand. Particularly Florence as we’ve got so many native birds she’d never have seen. She would have been fascinated.
Indeed, the Baileys would surely be fascinated by New Zealand natural life. Many thanks to Siobhan for sharing her story. We are grateful to our dedicated volunteers and always welcome new members to our community. Have you transcribed in the Transcription Center? What have you discovered? Get in touch with us via e-mail or on Twitter and share your story.
Doe with fawns about 1 hour old at Up & Down Ranch, 10 miles northwest of Ft. Davis, Texas, May 28, 1947. Photograph documents observations of pronghorn in Texas by Helmut Buechner in 1947. SIA2014-00023.
|Cypress Swamp in South Carolina, 1898. Photograph is from personal papers of Florence Merriam Bailey, documenting travel in the vicinity of Summerville, South Carolina. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 007417, Box 2, Folder "Photograph of F.M.B., undated". SIA2014-01855.|
At the Field Book Project, we've come across married couples that worked together in the field, but few quite like Vernon Orlando Bailey (1864-1942) and Florence Merriam Bailey (1863-1948). Not only did both enjoy long, fruitful careers in their respective fields, but they also have their own field documentation. Vernon Bailey worked as a Field Biologist for the US Biological Survey, and wrote and collected extensively for the organization. Florence Bailey was known for her study and writing in the field of ornithology.
The Smithsonian Transcription Center recently added field books from both of these individuals to those awaiting volunteer input. In order to highlight this couple's unique contributions, the Field Book Project has launched a new Flickr set of images from their personal papers.
|Kangaroo rat specimen, Continental, Arizona, 1921. Photograph taken by Sterling Bunnell for Vernon Orlando Bailey. Bailey worked as a field naturalist for the United States Department of Agriculture Bureau of Biological Survey. Bailey was particularly interested in rodents, especially Dipodomys, or kangaroo rat. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 007267, Box 5 Folder 12. SIA2011-1399.|
Both Florence and Vernon advocated for the wildlife they studied. Much of Florence Merriam Bailey’s field work and writing focused on the protection of birds, and she was a strong proponent for the use of binoculars instead of shotguns to observe them. Vernon Bailey had a long-held concern for humane animal population control. He went so far as to design and manufacture more humane traps and educate the public on their use. Images include field photographs Vernon Bailey used in relation to his work for more humane trapping techniques. Images from the Florence Bailey field book document her field work and travels.
By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
|Rafinesque's notes during his trip from Philadelphia to Kentucky in 1818 shows the Black Dotted Perch and the Ohio Red-Eye, as described by John James Audubon. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6097.|
Constantine Rafinesque was born in a suburb of Constantinople in 1783. From an early age, he showed great interest in the fields of botany and ichthyology. He first visited America from 1802 to 1805, and then returned to make the United States his permanent residence in 1815. Rafinesque was considered by many of his colleagues to be quite eccentric and his peculiar personality often got on their nerves. In 1818, Constantine Rafinesque stayed at the home of John James Audubon for three weeks. He was determined to find new species of flora and fauna, and was overjoyed every time he came across one of Audubon’s drawings of a specimen he had never seen before.
|The fish depicted on the right-hand page is the White-Eyes Barbot, as described to Rafinesque by Audubon. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6096.|
At one point, Audubon decided to play a trick on Rafinesque. Audubon began to add drawings of imaginary fish to his stacks of other drawings. When Rafinesque would come across these drawings, he would copy the drawings down in his notebook and ask Audubon for additional descriptive information about the fish. The most famous of these “fake fish” was called the Devil-Jack Diamond fish. In his book, Icthyologia Ohiensis, he describes the fish as being four to ten feet long with bulletproof scales. Rafinesque claimed to have seen one at a distance, but noted that they sometimes lie motionless on the surface and appear to look like logs.
By the time Rafinesque left, Audubon had convinced him of the existence of ten different imaginary fish. When Rafinesque published his findings, he gave Audubon credit for all of the fake species, often stating “I have not seen this species, but Mr. Audubon has communicated me a drawing of it.” At one point in his book, Rafinesque seems to doubt the accuracy of Audubon’s drawing stating “This genus rests altogether upon the authority of Mr. Audubon, who has presented me a drawing of the only species belonging to it. It appears very distinct if his drawing be correct; but it requires to be examined again. Is it only a Sturgeon incorrectly drawn?”
|These two pages depict four fish as described to Rafinesque by Audubon. Starting from the top left, the first are the Flatnose Doublefin, the Bigmouth Sturgeon, the Devil-Jack Diamond fish, and the Buffalo Carp Sucker. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 007250, Box 1, Folder 3. SIA2012-6089.|
Ultimately, this practical joke backfired on Audubon. He was still an up-and-coming ornithologist at the time, so when he went to publish his book years after Rafinesque’s book had come out, his critics claimed that he might be making up several of the birds contain within it. They believed that if he could provide such detailed descriptions of fake fish, then what was to stop him from creating imaginary birds? It is said that Audubon later admitted to a friend that his practical joke had cost him a great deal.
Audubon’s Fake Species
Erwin Hinckley Barbour, J. L. Wortman, and James William Gidley on paleontological expeditions in various locations throughout the United States for the Division of Vertebrate Mammals, 1900-1935. From lantern slides found in the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology Records. SIA2011-1417.
By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Vernon Orlando Bailey hated being away from home and that is likely why I found a photograph of his wife, Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey, tucked into the back of one of his field books. The black-and-white photograph is dated March 1900, and was taken just a few months after their wedding. This is an interesting find because it is located in Bailey’s field notes from his trip to Oregon and northern California in Autumn of 1909, nearly ten years after the photograph was originally taken.
|Photograph of Florence Merriam Bailey found in field book of Vernon Bailey. Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA 007267, Box 2, Folder 14. SIA2013-05307.|
Spring is finally here! It’s been a long winter for much of the United States, so we at the Field Book Project wanted to celebrate Spring's arrival. What better way is there than with images from our collections?
The Flickr set includes photographs taken by Helmut Karl Buechner during field work he completed in Texas, May 1947. These images document his observations of Pronghorn shortly have their birth.
Doe with fawns about 1 hour old at Up & Down Ranch, 10 miles northwest of Ft. Davis, Texas, May 28, 1947. (8). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 7279, Box 30, Folder 10 (envelope 4). SIA2014-00023.
Need more of a cute fix? Then we encourage you to check out a few of our other favorite field book photographs, highlighting wildlife on the younger side…
Tiger cub being fed by Lucile Mann, during the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007293, Box 23, Folder 1. SIA2012-3234.
Wedgetail Shearwater #47, 7 days old, Kure Atoll (undated). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 15, Envelope 1. SIA2013-07695.
Seals #286 and #287, Kure Atoll, March 12, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 223, Folder 3. SIA2013-07697.
Baby penguin. Taken during Waldo Schmitt's collecting during the Palmer Peninsula Survey 1962-1963. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU007231, Box 140, Folder. SIA2012-0662.
Young coconut plant and Edward Stewart. Photograph was taken while Hitchcock was on a collecting trip to British Guiana [Guyana]. SIA2011-0551.