Today we are celebrating another Field Book Project milestone: our 200th blog post. Since our first post in March 2011, the project has featured regular posts by staff, interns, volunteers, and guest bloggers. We decided to take a cue from our friends over at Smithsonian Collections Blog who recently celebrated their 500th post by highlighting some of their favorites. We were intrigued by this idea of reflection, and decided to try it ourselves. We asked Field Book Project staff members and advisors, “What past blog post is near and dear to you and why?” Below, you’ll find their responses.
Notes from the Field, by Scott Thybony
I love the Field Book Project blog. It is hard to pick one favorite because I have so many favorite stories told through this blog. But I am choosing to highlight this particular entry by Scott Thybony, a guest blogger, who wrote a wonderful vignette about the human side of field work. This resonates with me because I have always been curious about how it felt to be out in the field pioneering new territory and making notes about the daily finds and the trials and tribulations that come with field work. A humanist by nature, I appreciate the extraordinary work that scientists and explorers have done to help us better understand our world. So, this blog touched me and made me wish I had written something like it. Perhaps I will.
- Anne Van Camp, Director, Smithsonian Institution Archives & Co-PI, Field Book Project
Selecting my favorite blog post from among the many outstanding contributions by both our staff and outside colleagues is an unfair request. Every one of them has been thoughtfully composed and artfully written. But, since I’m not being allowed to beg out that way, I have chosen “one” that speaks to many issues that inspired the Field Book Project. Janelle Winters was a summer intern from Yale, who worked on a project for me involving historic plant specimens from Arizona. Her two-part blog post (see how I did that) first sprang from this project. The result was a beautiful story that blended westward expansion, dramatic landscape changes, and personal history. This story exemplifies what I like to say about field books … that they are scientifically irreplaceable as well as highly personal.
-Rusty Russell, Programs Director for Collections & Informatics, Department of Botany, NMNH & Co-PI, Field Book Project
Sharing Culture through Plants, by Sonoe Nakasone
One of my favorite posts explores the ethnobotanical field notes created by William Fisher while he was working as a tidal recorder in Alaska in 1899. It’s always inspiring when we come across the field notes of citizen scientists and other enthusiasts who avidly devote their free time to collecting or observing nature for scientific study. What I really enjoy about the post though is how Sonoe Nakasone, the post’s author, leads us through some precursory research into how Fisher’s notes on medicinal and food uses of collected plants line up with some contemporary resources available online. It’s fascinating to browse through some of these resources and learn about possible uses for local fauna in your area or to do a little research on medicinal uses for plants passed down through your own family. Potatoes for treating burns? Anyone?
-Carolyn Sheffield, Project Manager, Field Book Project
Butterfly Vision: Robert E. Silberglied’s Photographic Explorations, by Emily Hunter
Choose just one? Can’t! My two-ish: Tonto Basin series parts 1 and 2 by guest blogger Janelle Winters and Butterfly Vision by colleague Emily Hunter. The Tonto Basin series illustrates how information in field books can be pieces of larger stories—in this case a poignant one of ecological destruction. Winters also reminds us that field notes are windows into our past. Butterfly Vision was possibly the most original article we’ve posted. Hunter presents one of the most compelling examples of photographs as field notes, while giving equal weight to the biological and engineering accomplishments of her subject Robert Silberglied.
-Sonoe Nakasone, Cataloging Coordinator, Field Book Project
Like Son, Like Father; Like Father, Like Son, by Sonoe Nakasone
One of my favorite blog posts was Like Son, Like Father; Like Father, Like Son, about Edgar Alexander Mearns and his son, Louis di Zerega Mearns. It is not uncommon that the collectors whose work we catalog have familial connections in the sciences. In some cases they come to their careers through a spouse, sibling, or parent. However there are not a lot of examples in the field books demonstrating the familial relationship between the scientists while in the field. I found it very touching to read about the father and son’s close friendship and mutual respect.
- Lesley Parilla, Cataloger and Graphics Designer, Field Book Project
Glorious Day! Or A Bird Watcher’s Field Notes, by Sonoe Nakasone
My favorite blog post is Sonoe Nakasone’s story about James Eike, the bird-watching citizen scientist. Eike’s notes have such a personal touch that you don’t often find among the pages of specimen descriptions in other field books. It is hard not to get sucked into his field books because they occasionally read more like a diary than a list of bird observations. I think the fact that his field books spanned over 30 years of his life made it so that by the end, I felt sad to read about his death, and touched by his wife and daughter finishing out the book.
- Kira Cherrix, Image and Video Digitization Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Boys of Summer, by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie
I loved guest-blogger Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie’s post The Boys of Summer. MacKenzie has a unique perspective on how historical field documentation is relevant to contemporary research; she studies climate and land use change on Mount Desert Island, Maine, and uses field notes in her research. The fascinating twist is this—the field notes she consulted were written by Harvard undergrad students on summer vacation, and yet, provide rich data for comparing to present day observations. Early citizen science!
-Emily Hunter, Cataloger and Social Media Coordinator, Field Book Project