By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
My blog posts usually start with a question about field book content. This one started with a question about how to define the entity that created the field books. When we catalog field books, we also create records for the creators: persons, expeditions, or organizations. In this instance, I cataloged a collection and couldn't initially decide if the creator was an organization or an expedition. You'd think this would be easy to figure out, and yet somewhere around the mid-twentieth century, there were significant changes in the way major collecting efforts like expeditions were organized and conducted that required me to rethink whether it still fit our definition of an expedition.
When I first cataloged for the Field Book Project, most of the collections were from the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Expeditions of that era sometimes lasted for years. When I began to catalog collections from the early to mid-twentieth century, I noticed that collectors were able to return home periodically during their expeditions because of the advent of air travel. I started finding expeditions that seemed to go out seasonally over a period of years. Some of these are defined as one long expedition with breaks, others as individual expeditions that are part of a series over several years.
So imagine my surprise when I found what seemed to be a significant change in naming terminology for collecting trips, around the 1960s. We've come across several collecting trips from the 1960s that might have previously been called expeditions, but instead were called surveys, projects, and programs. Since cataloging materials from the mid to late twentieth century, I've seen little of the term “expedition.” So what changed? I'm still trying to figure that out.
The change seems to correlate with speed of travel and a change in available staff. Many of these "projects" like Pacific Survey Biological Ocean Program (POBSP), African Mammal Project (AMP), and Smithsonian Venezuela Project (SVP), involved large numbers of personnel (often graduate students), over a tremendously wide expanse of territory. Perhaps the structure of these vast collecting events was better suited to new terminology.
Since the 1960s, there seems to be a major shift in how the word “expedition” is used. When doing research for recent collections I've cataloged, I still find expeditions in the literature, but the majority of the organized collecting efforts we have cataloged since the 1960s do not use the term. When doing online research, I've noticed the word “expedition” has taken on a more commercial/recreational meaning. I often get results discussing vacation options with scientists as guides, run by any number of major museums. Whatever the reason for the shift, it appears that the term “expedition” has been adapted for trips that fall, to my eyes, more into the realm of ecotourism.
The Field Book Project has cataloged almost two hundred years of field work documentation. It has been fascinating to see how some aspects of collecting change and others remain consistent. Sometimes the reason for the change is self-evident. Others like my quandary with the apparent change in names, I am only left to ponder.