By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project.
In honor of National Hat Day (January 15)
While cataloging I’ve come across a lot of pictures of collectors in tropical climates wearing the ubiquitous pith helmet. These enjoyable images seemed to deserve some sort of recognition. Besides being utilitarian and utterly fashionable, pith helmets have actually been used to document field work, as described below.
The Field Book Project includes a sizable number of photographs documenting field work. These images include a wide range of content, but one of my favorite themes has been how collectors choose to demonstrate the size of the photographed subjects. One might think that scientists would bring measuring devices with them to put in photographs, but often they use readily available objects placed next to the item photographed to indicate size.
Often scientists utilize colleagues or tools at hand. When William Foshag (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7281) was studying the eruption of Paricutín Volcano in the 1940’s, he would place a hammer next to examples of volcanic bombs [fragments of rock sent aloft by an erupting volcano]. Naturalist Edmund Heller (SIA RU 7179), while in Peru in the 1910’s, had a colleague hold a snake specimen to demonstrate its length.
Entomologist Edward Chapin, Curator at the United States National Museum from 1934-1954, used this method of size demonstration several times during field work to the Carribean and South America. He produced some of my favorite examples of this type of photograph, one of which is the pith helmet seen above. Though he worked primarily on insects, his field books include a fair number of images documenting local vegetation.
The photograph above comes from a collection of three note books (SIA Accession 11-085) documenting his work in Cuba and Jamaica in 1937 as well as Colombia in the 1940’s. There are several photographs with object used to demonstrate size in these field books. I've included some of my favorites below, and hope you enjoy them as much as I have.