By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
The Field Book Project’s original goal was to catalog an estimated 6,000 field books housed at the National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Institution Archives. We have cataloged over 6,700 and are still cataloging. Having surpassed our initial estimate, I began to wonder about the field books we haven’t yet included. The field books we catalog are considered inactive collections, meaning they are no longer worked on and used by their creators. Most of the field books we have cataloged are from prior to 1980. Some of these give fascinating insights into culture and the sciences of the time as well as the personalities of the collectors.
Technology and current events have changed dramatically in the last thirty years. I’ve been contemplating what we might find in field books post-1980. I’ve listed a couple of possibilities below that reflect methods currently being used for field research. I know I can’t put in requests, but here are some of the things I look forward to:
- Transmitters: Scientists at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Patrick Jansen, a scientist at STRI and Wageningen University) have attached radio transmitters to more than 400 seeds to find out how large seeds of tropical trees are dispersed.
- Planes: I am fascinated by the use of aviation in field work. We have found a few references in the field books we’ve cataloged so far. These have mostly discussed aviation as transportation to remote spots, but also surveying for archaeological sites (SIA RU 007006), and studying vegetation zones (SIA Acc. 12-040). C. O. Handley documented the use of aerial surveying of terrain when he conducted fieldwork in the Arctic with the US Navy in the summer of 1948 (SIA Acc. 12-448).
- Submarines: Smithsonian scientists went to Substation Curacao this last summer to use submarines to study and collect marine life from areas to which they rarely have access.
- Robots: There are several field projects recently discussing the use of unmanned vehicles and other technology in field work. NMNH is currently highlighing work completed by Scarlet Knight, the first robotic vessel to cross the Atlantic. Other institutions, like Scripps Institute of Oceanography, have been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to study smog in California.
- Outer Space: As we develop the ability to send robots and people to other planets, will we need to record not just what nation but also the planet? Remote field work is being conducted on Mars by NASA’s rover Curiosity as we speak.
- Citizen Scientists: Smithsonian and other institutions sometimes utilize volunteers to complete field work. Ecotourism has led to the institutions creating opportunities for people to do this during vacations. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center wrote about this method of collecting in conjunction with Earthwatch in a 2011 blog post.
Over the course of this project, I have been amazed at the wide variety of field book sources, locations, and content. Where ever the field books come from, we will be happy to catalog them!