By Christina V. Fidler, Museum Archivist, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
Journal, written in pen at the end of every day, would be considerably
fuller and neater, her notes organized, sorted out, edited, expanded,
with detailed observations of behavior recorded at the back, on separate
pages for each individual species. For the Journal, and for Species
Accounts, she created a narrative, free of sentiment or much personal
reflection—a scientific document, not a diary, but with the skeleton of
facts dressed in the clothes of complete sentences, so as to be readable
by any stranger looking over her shoulder. All manner of facts might
prove important to a student of the future, this was Grinnell's belief.
Nothing in nature should be assumed insignificant.”
Much has been written about Joseph Grinnell’s methodical standard for taking notes, better known as the Grinnell method, but the fictional short story written by Molly Gloss is probably my favorite. It’s titled, The Grinnell Method. I can’t resist the romantic interpretation of Grinnell’s perfected method. I especially love how the Grinnell method is the constant, the order behind this protagonist’s wandering life.
Grinnell Method is a comprehensive approach to recording observations
and activity in the field and is recognized internationally as a
standard in field note taking. Field notes consist of the Journal,
Species Accounts, and the Catalogue. Maps, drawings and photos of
localities and specimens are expected. Grinnell had standardized the
method by 1908, when he was established as the first director of the
Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California Berkeley
(MVZ). His earlier field notebooks contain similar header information as
outlined by the method but the standard sized paper and headers aren't
consistent until 1908. The museum still follows the method today,
including the paper size.
From an archives perspective, the uniformity of the data makes it easier to catalog geographic locations and more importantly, the historic field notes have been the foundation for resurveys conducted by the MVZ. You can learn more about the Grinnell Method on the MVZ website.
The majority of the MVZ archival collections consist of field notes. As I'm sure the Field Book Project can attest to, working with field notes is both fascinating and complex. There is a wealth of data stored in and related to the pages bound (or unbound) in the notebooks. One focus of the MVZ’s three-year Hidden Collections grant from the Council for Library and Information Resources is to try to link our existing resources to our archival finding aids in a dynamic and new way.
The MVZ has a number of field notes scanned as part of an earlier grant. They are located on the MVZ Field Notebook site. Additionally, the MVZ utilizes Arctos, a multi-institutional specimen database, to manage its specimen collections in addition to other data related to collecting events. Because our data are available online, I can link them through various finding aid notes. Primarily I utilize the Related Archival Materials note and the Existence of Copies note. The Charles H. Richardson finding aid is an example of how a finding aid can incorporate references to specimen data and digitized material.
are still perfecting our own methods for making these connections.
We’re also looking at ways in which Arctos can link back to the finding
aid for a two-way match. This is just the start of the grant and I hope
that future developments include more innovative ways of bringing all of
the data together.
Readers can keep up with the MVZ Hidden Collections Project by visiting the MVZ Archives blog.
Gloss, Molly. “The Grinnell Method.” Strange Horizons. September 3, 2012. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2012/20120903/grinnell-f.shtml.
http://books.google.com/books?id=GiADAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA163&ots=30WFxwp-Xh&dq=The%20Methods%20and%20Uses%20of%20a%20Research%20Museum&pg=PA164#v=onepage&q&f=false (The Methods and Uses of a Research Museum, by Joseph Grinnelll)
http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/1977AFN.PDF (On Taking Field Notes, by James V. Remsen Jr.)
http://gk12calbio.berkeley.edu/lessons/fieldnoteguide.pdf (Guide used in UC Berkeley’s IB104 class)