By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
I recently cataloged the papers of Edmund Heller. He fascinated me from the beginning, partly because his range of travel rivaled my favorite invertebrate zoologist, Waldo Schmitt. When I started to work on his papers, I found characteristics that left me baffled. The contents and locations of his field books are scattered and compiled in places I did not expect. The longer I worked, the more his materials seemed a great example of the inspiration for the Field Book Project.
Who was Edmund Heller?
Heller was a naturalist who worked on expeditions for Stanford University, National Museum of Natural History, American Museum of Natural History, National Geographic Society, Yale University, and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago where he worked as a curator in zoology. He was later director of zoos in Milwaukee and San Francisco. He rarely spent more than a few years with any one institution and took part in several well publicized and popular expeditions at beginning of the twentieth century.
Edmund Heller at the Smithsonian
He first worked with the Smithsonian in 1909 when chosen as a naturalist for large mammals on the Smithsonian African Expedition under the command of Theodore Roosevelt. He went on several other expeditions representing the Smithsonian, including the Rainey African Expedition of 1911-1912 and the Smithsonian Cape-to-Cairo Expedition of 1919-1920.
Heller’s field books
Heller collected for a lot of different institutions, but nearly all of his resulting field books appear to be in departments of the Smithsonian. These include Heller’s field books from expeditions in Alaska with the Biological Survey; in Peru with Yale University and the National Geographic Society; in China with the American Museum of Natural History; in Russia with Paul J. Rainey; and possibly in Galapagos with Stanford University.
Heller’s expedition colleagues appear to have commonly given their field books to the institution the funded an expedition. Heller did not follow this pattern. He is a classic example of items-not-going-where-one-would-expect. I decided to do a little research to see where I found his field books compared to where I expected them to be. As you can see in the chart below, in many cases his field books’ homes do not correspond with the institution that houses the specimens collected.
As you can see, materials end up in unexpected places. The Field Book Project is creating a registry that will enable related materials in different repositories to, like the field books of Edmund Heller, be united online.