Postcard of the United States National Museum Building, now the Arts & Industries Building, c. 1915. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, 2003-19543.
Summer has announced its presence in the District of Columbia. I know this because the tourists have amassed to summer vacation numbers at the entrances of the museums along the National Mall. As the exhibit halls fill with visitors, the back halls of Natural History begin to empty. For many natural history disciplines, summer is a prime time to head in to the field and collect. In my short time at the Smithsonian I have enjoyed hearing about the many far flung places researchers have traveled during this time of year.
In my experience, it seems that many scientists stay closer to home to collect during the summer, and as Smithsonian scientists often lived in and near the District of Columbia, we’ve cataloged a number of field books documenting DC field work. One of my favorite characteristics of these books has been the specificity of location identification. They frequently indicate not only DC neighborhood but also nearby landmarks (i.e. corner of US Department of Agriculture building).
While passing families peruse maps to determine their next destination on the Mall, I have begun to wonder how many of our popular attractions are documented in the field books. Hopefully my list below will spark some new ways of looking at these familiar locations.
- National Mall, National Museum of Natural History – A.S. Hitchcock, (plants) 1920
- Rock Creek Park – A. S. Hitchcock, 1920
- Soapstone Valley Park near Rock Creek Park -- A. K. Fisher (birds). [This park may not be so well known, but Fisher specifically referred to this as "Picnic woods", so I’m assuming this would be a good place to eat outside this summer.]
- Francis Scott Key Bridge, Georgetown – Alexander Wetmore (birds) for the US Department of Agriculture in 1913
- National Zoological Park – Moynihan (mammals) c. 1960’s and C. L. Wheeler (mammals), 1939
- Ellipse (National Mall) and multiple DC neighborhoods -- Mary Agnes Chase (plants) c. 1905
These are just some of the locations I found in the 110 field books we have cataloged relating to the District of Columbia. For some disciplines, like botany, documentation of DC biodiversity is well established. In fact the Department of Botany at NMNH offers online access to database plant specimens of the Washington DC / Baltimore area. The website also offers maps of what’s currently in bloom.
Whether you are resident heading on your daily commute or a visitor to our fair city, I hope this inspires a new way to look at your surroundings.