By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
92-1712, F. Raymond Fosberg, (1908-1993), botanist and ecologist, looking at leaves on a tree, was on the staff of the National Museum of Natural History from 1966 to 1993, Smithsonian Archives - History Div
F. Raymond Fosberg was a botanist with a long and remarkable career. He joined the staff of the National Museum of Natural History in 1966, working as Curator of Botany, Senior Botanist, and eventually Emeritus Botanist. Fosberg collected specimens all over the globe, including the Americas, Pacific Islands, Europe, Africa, and Asia. He documented his activities in 129 field books, spanning 62 years, across seven decades (1931-1993).
It’s not just sheer quantity that is so incredible about Fosberg’s field notes. His notes are comprehensively inclusive, descriptive, and meticulously detailed. Rusty Russell, Department of Botany Collections Manager, noted in his blog post that Fosberg encouraged him to record everything he saw. Fosberg himself maintained a zealous yet thoughtful and deliberate record of his activities in the field through his carefully dated and numbered field books. He collected wherever he happened to be, including outside of hotel rooms.
Fosberg always found opportunities for recording in his field books. When I began cataloging them, I often found notes labeled “Germany to Pakistan” or “Washington, D.C. to Miami” and wondered at this very broad style of geographic description. Then I realized that Fosberg was actually writing field notes from the airplane! Indeed, Fosberg recorded even as he traveled from point A to point B, peering from the windows of airplanes, trains, and taxis, and noting everything he saw.
Fosberg was an exceptionally well traveled individual. From the field books, we can see that he collected in 73 countries and 45 U.S. states! Feel free to pause a moment and let that sink in. Amazing, right?!
The map above shows countries visited by Fosberg, and displays the number of field books that include field notes from that country. To interact with the map, hover your mouse over the countries. You will see a small window that displays the country (or dependent state) name and the number of field books held by the Smithsonian (NMNH Department of Botany) that contain field notes from that place.
This map (above) breaks down the field notes of Fosberg by state. As you can see, Fosberg didn’t just collect abroad in exotic environments. He often collected and created field notes very close to home. In fact, 68 field books contain notes from Virginia. Fosberg visited numerous states and countries each year, so nearby locations like Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina are peppered throughout as he left and returned to his office in Washington, D.C.
Fosberg was active up until his death in 1993. His final field book (March 1992 to May 1993) shows that he traveled to Hawaii, California, Virginia, Maryland, Caroline Islands, and Okinawa, collecting 153 specimens. No decline in the rigor and precision can be observed from these final pages. A final entry is dated 29 May 1993. Fosberg passed away the following September.