By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Martin Moynihan (SIA Acc. 01-096) was a behaviorist that studied behavioral evolutionary biology. He covered a wide range of fauna during his career, including primates, squid, and birds. Moynihan’s collection cataloged by the Field Book Project through his association with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He worked at the Barro Colorado Island research facility as a Resident Naturalist in 1957, and became the founding Director when the research facilities were consolidated as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in 1966. He played a pivotal role in its growth, 1966-1974.
Moynihan appears to have been a dramatic and dynamic person. Articles written after his death by colleagues and major newspapers paint quite a picture, even if only a portion is accurate. The New York Times stated:
“He swam along with the reef squid in the warm waters of Atlantic Panama off the San Blas islands, with a waterproof notebook dangling from his belt.”
Neal Griffith Smith, a colleague of 36 years, wrote:
“When I first met him, he looked like Salvador Dali, for he sported an almost 5-inch waxed mustache, wore a Bond street suit, and carried a proper British umbrella. He remained an elegant though less dandy figure for the rest of his life…He had a reputation for rages and sudden changes of mood. In the early years he was always firing off his resignation because things were not going his way. It was pure theater. Martin was a gentleman in the true sense of the word, and perhaps the most intelligent person I ever met.” (p. 758)
It should come as no surprise that he created detailed, exuberant, and challenging field notes. Each entry is headed with location, date, often with type of fauna being observed. Most of his notes are carefully indexed by type of animal and behavior. Illustrations of animals are throughout the notes, and often lovely drawings. He took great care to highlight text with colored pencil and varying patterns along the left-hand columns, usually indicating a specific animal or couple being observed. Even the page layouts appear pleasing to the eye. When writing observations, Moynihan used a plethora of exclamation points and questions marks. There is no question, Moynihan loved his work.
SIA 2012-1880, SIA2012-1872. Field notes of Martin H. Moynihan on Cyanerpes (Honeycreepers) observed in Barro Colorado, Panama, 1958.
His notes have been some of the most challenging to catalog for this project, both in content and organization. This is not to say that Moynihan’s notes are not organized. They are very well arranged. The challenge came with balancing the kind of information collected for each record, and what to include.
So what were some of the challenges?
- What materials are cataloged? As a behaviorist, Moynihan’s collection falls in a gray area for the Field Book Registry. He didn’t explicitly collect, but he recorded extensive observations of flora and fauna in locations where a lot of collecting by Smithsonian has since occurred (STRI). We decided to include the majority of his observations of animals not in captivity, since observations of animals in captivity are akin to lab notes. He reorganized his notes without concern about the status of the animals he was observing. Without careful reading, the type of information he collected does not always make clear whether he was observing animals in captivity or the wild.
- How to deal with reorganized field notes? Moynihan recorded the notes chronologically, but every few years would reorganize by type of animal. He would then renumber the pages. This means that folders cover multiple years (with significant gaps) and locations. Sometimes they are not in chronological order. We strive when possible to note dates and location, but often had to limit chronological specificity to a list years because of gaps and cataloging time constraints.
- Where was Moynihan? was a challenge to determine location, because Moynihan worked throughout Central and South America. Normally one would be able to narrow it down to a region based on the geographic names of other locations around the same time period, but most notes are no longer in chronological order.
- How to balance content versus structure? There is so much structure to the field notes, that it can become difficult to balance the amount of structural description in the catalog record versus content. Each record must be able to stand on its own, so structure must be noted, but this cuts in to time for digging through the details of entries.
Over all these are amazing field notes to see. They include photographs, sketches, spectrograms, correspondence, and last but not least, Moynihan’s undeniable passion.
Wolfgang Saxon. (December 15, 1996). “Martin H. Moynihan, 68, an Authority on Animal Behavior.” New York Times access on December 1, 2011 at http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/15/world/martin-h-moynihan-68-an-authority-on-animal-behavior.html
Neal Griffith Smith. (July 1998). “In Memoriam: Martin Humphrey Moynihan, 1928-1996.” American Ornithologist’s Union. Published by University of California Press. Accessed December 1, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4089423
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “Highlights: Important events in the history of Barro Colorado.” Accessed December 1, 2011 at (http://www.stri.si.edu/sites/forest_speaks/english/about_forest_speaks/history/index.html