By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
The Field Book Project was launched in 2010 to build an online registry of field book content. The Registry, which is now under development, will be a resource to bring together field books (within and from outside of the Smithsonian Institution) into one online location. For those of you who have followed our progress over the past couple of years, this is old news. But the need for this kind of resource continues to reveal itself. Recently, it was exemplified for me when cataloging the field notes of Leonard P. Schultz.
Ichthyologist Leonard P. Schultz (1901-1986) worked on the classification of fishes and studied shark attacks. He came to work at the United States National Museum (now known as the National Museum of Natural History) in 1936 and remained there until his death in 1986. Among the many projects and expeditions that Schultz took part in was Operation Crossroads, a U.S. Navy project that sent scientists to the Marshall Islands to record observations before and after the infamous Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests of 1946. Schultz worked as an ichthyologist on Operation Crossroads, collecting fish and observing the effects of the blast on the local fauna.
Over the summer, I cataloged field notes that are part of the Leonard Peter Schultz Papers, circa 1915-1970, with related papers from 1899 (Record Unit 7222), at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. The field notes themselves are provocative and very interesting, especially for me, as someone who did not live through that time when the world was just discovering the destructive powers of nuclear energy.
One entry, written on “Able Day” (the day of the first atomic blast test at Bikini Atoll) describes Schultz’s experience of watching the mushroom cloud and even feeling the heat on his face. His observations pre- and post-blast are emotionally stirring, but also scientifically significant—they provide a detailed record of the environment before and after the explosions.
All in all, 14 of Schultz’s field books from this time period, and the 1947 re-survey, are part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. The materials include his logbook, field notes, annotated maps, photographs, negatives, and 16mm films.
Meanwhile, at Division of Fishes…
Soon after I finished cataloging that collection, I trekked over to the Museum Support Center where the NMNH Division of Fishes field notes are held. Summer Cataloging Intern Alice Doolittle had cataloged almost all of the Fishes field notes, leaving off at the letter “S”. I went to finish up cataloging those notes. Surprised was I to find even more field notes of Leonard P. Schultz—including notes from Operation Crossroads!
The book below includes Schultz’s notes on fishes surveyed before the atomic blast, and includes color sketches of the specimens. As mentioned in a previous blog post, color field sketches are an important information recording tool for ichthyologists; since specimens lose their color quickly, the sketches can give an idea of the colors and patterns observed on the fish right at the time it was collected.
The Division of Fishes has three items of Schultz’s from his work on Operation Crossroads: an itinerary of his trip, the field book shown above, and field data. These books were kept in succession with the ones that are held at Smithsonian Institution Archives, and together they give a broader, richer, and more complete set of valuable data, observations, and other information.
Bringing it all together
I’d venture to say that the problem of “split collections” is not altogether uncommon, here at the Smithsonian, or other institutions. Related field notes are often split up, either intentionally or unintentionally. Before the launch of the Field Book Project years ago, Co-Principle Investigator Rusty Russell ran into several obstacles while trying to access field notes of the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842). His search brought him to 11 (yes, eleven!) separate institutions. That frustration and recognition of the need for increased accessibility and control led to the formation of The Field Book Project.
Beyond just connecting the field notes of one collector from a specific date, the Registry also allows connections to be made between items from the same Expedition or project, and even similar subjects, across collections.
For example, if you want to access field notes for the Marshall Islands (or even more specifically, Bikini Atoll), you could search by location. Currently the Field Book Registry has 71 field books from the Marshall Islands, providing a trove of information on the biodiversity of this location. And if you wanted to find more field notes on Operation Crossroads, you would find that there were actually two Smithsonian scientists who took part in that project—the other being malacologist Joseph P. E. Morrison. In fact, field notes related to Operation Crossroads or other surveys before and after atomic bomb testing exist in various collections outside of the Smithsonian Institution as well (some light internet research turns up articles, photographs, videos, and more).
Our goal, eventually, is to bring all of those materials into one online location so that it’s easier to find. Schultz's Operation Crossroads field notes are yet another example that shows the importance of linking these related collections so that users may find all relevant materials. Through the descriptive work that we do, important relationships are maintained, and—at least virtually—the information co-located.
More information on Operation Crossroads can be found here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/onehundredyears/expeditions/bikini.html