By Daina Dickman (Project Manager, Connnecting Content, California Academy of Sciences)
A map from the field notes of Washington H. Ochsner
Diagram from Ochsner’s field notes
Hello from the California Academy of Sciences! We recently began a partnership with the Smithsonian Field Book Project, and I am excited to be the first guest blogger.
The , located in San Francisco, CA, was recently awarded a 3 year Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant entitled “Connecting Content: A Collaboration to Link Field Notes to Specimens and Published Literature.” Connecting Content is a collaborative effort involving the California Academy of Sciences, Missouri Botanical Garden, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Harvard University Botany Libraries, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology Library, the New York Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.
A page from the field notes of Alban Stewart
Part of the project involves the digitization of field notebooks and natural history collections and the generation of metadata for these items. Six of the seven institutions will conduct pilot projects of varying scope and size. We will then develop the means to link these collections to one another and to published material in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The results of these projects will be made available for harvesting, reuse, and repurposing without cost, and third-party web applications developed to best serve diverse user communities. The final deliverables will include an enhanced community Smithsonian Field Book Registry, as well as workflow and procedures so that other institutions may contribute to this project.
The California Academy of Sciences pilot project includes digitizing the field notes and a portion of the finch specimens from a 1905-1906 expedition to the Galapagos Islands. In 1905 eleven men, including seven scientists, sailed for the Galapagos Islands on a schooner christened the Academy.
Crew members included:
- Rollo H. Beck, Ornithologist, chief of the expedition and captain of the Academy
- Washington H. Ochsner, Geologist and conchologist
- Francis X. Williams, Entomologist
- Edward W. Gifford, Ornithologist
- Joseph S. Hunter, Ornithologist and mammalogist
- Alban Stewart, Botanist
- Joseph R. Slevin, Herpetologist
While in the Galapagos Islands for 366 days a large scale disaster struck San Francisco – the great 1906 earthquake and fire. Over 80% of the city was destroyed and over 3,000 people lost their lives. Most of the holdings of the California Academy of Sciences were lost to the fire. The collections brought back from this expedition became the new beginnings of the Academy’s collection.
Intern Josh Roselle scanning field notes in the Project Lab
Among the specimens brought back in 1906 were over 5,500 finches. Colloquially known as “Darwin Finches,” these are the same types of birds associated with Charles Darwin and the beginnings of the theory of evolution and are of interest to scientists, historians, students and the public alike. Our Galapagos finches are one of the most requested in the research collection but are very fragile, being over 105 years old! By digitizing these specimens it is hoped that they will be more widely available to audiences who might not otherwise get the chance to study them. Our digitized finch specimens will be linked to the fieldnotes we are scanning, connecting the written document to the actual specimens that were collection during this expedition. You can read more about Galapagos Finches (Geospiza) at the Encyclopedia of Life.
One of the most exciting aspects of this digitization project is that a good portion of our work is done in the Project Lab on the public floor of the California Academy of Sciences. Museum visitors are able to watch us as we scan field notes and take pictures of finch specimens, as well as observe a PowerPoint that explains our project. Library Intern Josh Roselle has clocked many hours in the Project Lab scanning field notes and has been a great help in bring the hidden collection of field notes to the attention of a wider audience.