By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
Often, when I describe what I do as a field book cataloger, I get a few questions. Following the usual “So what are field books?” comes the question, “What are they like?” After some explanations back and forth I usually get to the heart of the question: What do field books look like? This is a great question, and it’s usually hard to fully explain in a few sentences. Field books are defined by their content (they document field activities) and not their form, and therefore they come in a variety of physical manifestations. Often, field books are traditional codices--bound books that scientists carried with them on collecting trips and expeditions. Other times, field books are unbound typewritten notes, correspondence, drawings, maps, still photographs, and films.
The Field Book Project has cataloged over 4,500 field books to date, ranging in years from approximately 1800 through 2008. To give a visual sampling of the field books cataloged by myself or my colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution, I’ve compiled a timeline:
1990s – 2000s
I love to see the changing form of something as simple as the classic notebook—government-issued notebooks, the marble notebook, steno pads, books purchased abroad. Furthermore, materials used to record notes have evolved--from quill and ink to ballpoint pen and sharpie, although it seems pencil has always remained a classic choice.
It’s hard not to imagine what comes next for the field book. The way that scientists record information and document their activities has changed drastically, and who knows what forms they may take in the future. Will field notes be all 1s and 0s? How will we preserve, catalog, and provide access for them? Interesting to ponder as I look back, and anticipate what lies ahead.
1860s - I. I. Hayes plant list, 1861.
1890s - Top: Field book by Jesse Herman Holmes, 1890; Bottom: field books by Paul Carpenter Standley, 1897; Vernon Orlando Bailey's field notes, 1890.
1900s - Left to right: U.S. Bureau of Fisheries field book, 1901, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7184, Box 16 Folder 8; Hand-painted lantern slide documenting the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition of 1909, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 11-096, Box 1 Folder 1, Image SIA2011-1412; Edward Palmer field book, 1906.
1910s - A. S. Hitchcock field book, 1919.
1920s - Top row, left to right: Field books by Frederick Coville, 1924; Erik Ekman, circa 1924-1930. Bottom row, left to right: Lantern slide documenting the excavation of Dinosaur National Monument Quarry, 1923, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 424, Box 7 Lantern Slide Box 22, Image SIA2011-1424; Ellsworth Killip field book, 1922; A. S. Hitchcock photograph album, volume 2, 1921-1923, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 229, Image 2011-0576.
1930s - Field book by J. F. Joyner, 1937.
1940s - Left to right: field books by Henry S. Kernan, Cinchona Project, 1944, James A. Peters 1949, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7175, Box 49, Folder 4, Image SIA2012-6318; E. P. Killip, 1941.
1950s - Top: Field books by Killip, 1950s; Martin Moynihan field notes, 1958, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 01-096, Image SIA2012-1880. Bottom: Stereoscope from Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition to the Belgian Congo, 1955, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7231, Image SIA2012-0404.
1960s - Left to right: field books by Doris Cochran, 1962-1963; C. V. Morton, 1967; photograph taken during Waldo Schmitt's collecting work with Palmer Peninsula Survey, 1962-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7231, Box 140, Image SIA2012-0662.
1970s - Field books by T. R. Soderstrom, 1970s.
1980s - Left to right: field books by David K. Edelman, 1987, 1984-1985; field books by T. R. Soderstrom, 1983-1984.
1990s-2000s - Field books by E. E. Terrell, 1990-2008.