This photograph is included in the field notes of André Goeldi and part of a collection that includes 36 black-and-white photographs of specimens. André Goeldi was a Brazilian botanist who collected in Pará, Brazil, circa 1913-1920. SIA2012-3905.
Ageratum chiriquense (B.L. Rob.) R.M. King & H. Rob. collected by Henri Pittier between Cerro Vaca and Hato del Loro, Panama, during the Biological Survey of Panama Canal Zone. Catalog number: 715729. Image courtesy of NMNH, Department of Botany.
This is the second in a 4 part joint blog series by the Field Book Project (FBP) and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), showcasing examples of digital connections between museum specimens, field book catalog records, and the resulting publications.
Documentation and specimens from expeditions often end up separated when participants return to their home institutions. The materials’ connections are sometimes inconsistently recorded. Resulting publications can suffer the same fate. These blog posts are snapshots of how these materials are being reunited virtually, through the ongoing work of BHL, FBP, and National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).
The first example of this online reunion is the Biological Survey of Panama, 1910- 1912. This was an amazing survey, conducted before the completion of the Panama Canal. Panama had not yet been fully surveyed; scientists recognized the potential lost opportunity, if the country was not studied before the Canal irrevocably altered the landscape. Smithsonian and affiliated staff who worked on the survey also developed an ongoing interest in the area as a site for long term collecting and research. This eventually resulted in a relationship with the research station on Barro Colorado Island, now known as Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Yet, if one looks for publications from this important survey, frequently one must read a portion of text to find the relationship.
Field books from the Survey
Catalog records from Field Book Project Field notes of Charles Dwight Marsh in collection RU007260
Catalogs of S. F. Hildebrand (US Bureau of Fisheries) in NMNH, Division of Fishes in collection RU007220
Catalog of Albert S. Hitchcock (USDA) at NMNH Main Library from Department of Botany in collection Acc. 12-054
Catalog of William R. Maxon (USNM) at NMNH Main Library from Department of Botany in collection Acc. 12-151
When cataloging field books that result from an expedition, the Field Book Project creates an Encoded Archival Context catalog record to describe the expedition. The record is designed to provide official and variant names for a survey, major dates, participants, locations, and overall description of work completed. Details vary depending on available information. These specifics enable researchers to locate publications, field notes, and images of specimens collected during an expedition, even though the connection is not always explicitly stated in records.
By knowing who collected, where, and when, we were able to find records for field notes, publications, and specimens for the Survey of the Panama Canal. The Field Book Project’s item level cataloging facilitated the location of field notes from 5 of the 8 leading participants--several of whom were not employees of the US National Museum. We found several examples of digitized publications from original collectors in BHL, in spite of the fact they sometimes appeared a decade after the fieldwork occurred. These details also enabled the locating specimen images, like the one pictured above.
This is by no means an exhaustive search, but the ease with which these were found is heartening. Resources from expeditions like this are frequently documented only in paper or institutional memory. Publications out of copyright have the chance of being digitized by one of several institutions, but the online presence and availability of specimens and field notes (by nature of their uniqueness) requires additional care, time, and expense that many institutions may not have available. We at the Field Book Project are proud to demonstrate how these pieces can be reconnected online. Stay tuned for more expedition highlights.
Published works in BHL
By Emily Hunter, Field Book Project
This post was adapted from an article originally published in Plant Press, Vol. 16 No. 1 (pdf).
In December, the Field Book Project made thousands of field book records publicly available and searchable through the Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center. After two years of cataloging efforts funded through the Council on Library and Information Resources, records describing over 6,000 individual field books spanning over 500 collections by number of individuals are now online.
In addition to the release of records, The Field Book Project has been promoting field book content via social media sites Flickr and Twitter, as well as here on our blog hosted on TypePad. Social media allows us to reach new audiences and connect in new ways. The Field Book Project blog posted its first article in March 2011; it now has over 200 posts, over 44,000 page views, and more than 100 comments. Blog articles highlighting field book content are posted about twice per week, and generate a substantial amount of traffic. Thank you to our readers for following our activities!
Flickr, a photo-based social media platform, allows us to share images of field book content with an audience that is visually-oriented. The Field Book Project regularly contributes images to the Smithsonian’s Flickr Commons photo stream.
|A photo of a previously unknown specimen was posted to Flickr where users quickly identified it. See the original photo here.|
Twitter allows the Field Book Project (@FieldBookProj) to reach out on an informal level to a huge community of active content creators in the fields of biodiversity, museums, archives, libraries, natural history, and more. Through this network we have been able to reach individuals who might not have otherwise heard of the Project. Though our Twitter presence is still quite young, Twitter allows us to reach new users, and connect them with links to blog articles, images, and other content.
While increased exposure for our Project is important, engaging with social media is not just about pushing content out towards new audiences. It is also about opening up a dialogue. Over the past two years we’ve worked to bring guest bloggers in to offer their insights on field books. Guests have included Smithsonian staff external to the Field Book Project, as well as colleagues from other museums, schools, and herbaria. Posts contributed by individuals outside of our Project bring new and different perspectives, questions, and ideas, and help all of us better understand the potential of field books.
Flickr and Twitter also expand the conversation around field books. On Flickr, users can tag images, “favorite” them, add them to galleries, and comment. Comments range from appreciation to questions about the collections to identifications of specimens. Via Twitter, users can ask us questions, give us feedback, and share our content with others.
As the Project moves forward, it’s more important than ever to promote the fruits of our cataloging labors. The public release of field book records not only makes it easier for Smithsonian staff to find related field book content, it opens up our collections to a much broader, international audience. Promoting our content via social media outlets promotes awareness of field books as research resources and opens up a dialogue about field book content. We encourage you to join in and to follow us!
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
|Image courtesy of 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
|Photo courtesy of Northeast Harbor Library.
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
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Portion of the fish collected through rotenone sampling off the coast of Matiti Island, Tikahau, 1957. SIA RU007231, Box 134, Folder "SI-Bredin Society Island Expedition, 1957". SIA2012-0652a.
As a cataloger with a liberal arts background working on a natural sciences project, I have learned a sizeable amount on the job. Some of this knowledge has been about the basics of scientific specialties but, more often than not, my new knowledge has been about the practical side of collecting.
While working on a collection of Invertebrate Zoology, I came across a practical solution to a question I had not thought to ask – how would one collect a representative moment of biodiversity of a location? How does one document the fauna of a location as a snap-shot? Thinking over the methods of collecting and observations I have cataloged, I began to see the extent of the challenge.
For birds, I have seen materials for bird counts, bird-banding, and individual collecting. For marine biology, I have seen materials relating to dredging and fishing. These methods really seem best suited to documenting a type of wildlife found at a location. To use these methods to record a wide range of wildlife in an area would be time and labor intensive.
One method that provides an answer to this challenge is “rotenone sampling.” The account I read in the field notes described it as a relatively new method for collecting a “snapshot” of the fauna of a coral reef. Having never heard of this method, I did some research, and found more than I ever expected.
Rotenone is derived from the roots of tropical plants in the genus Derris, Lonchocarpus or Tephrosia in South America and Pacific Islands. It was initially recognized being used by native populations of the Pacific Islands and South America for fishing purposes. Rotenone works by blocking the cellular uptake of oxygen, and is an example of the use of plant poisons as a way of collecting specimens that are representative of a specific location. This method became more common after 1930. Rotenone is now an established method of location sampling and fish population management.
Over the last half century rotenone has become a collecting tool for field biologists as well as a method of fish management for a variety of organizations including state fish and wildlife departments and federal agencies. As one might imagine, this method of population management and sampling is closely regulated, and has inspired lively debate over the years. Yet over the last half century, state and federal agencies including the EPA have monitored it, and US Fish and Wildlife have discussed its proper utilization, proving it to be a useful tool for environmental study and management.